TOC/Index question?

Subject: TOC/Index question?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, "'Bonita White'" <bwhite -at- youcentric -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 8 Sep 2000 14:36:26 -0400

Bonita White is <<...working on a small document, less than 20 pages (more
like 15), and I was wondering if I should include a TOC and/or and index. I
have usually followed the "rule" that everything has a TOC and any doc over
25 pages has both a TOC and an index; but now there is some question as to
whether that is the case.>>

Here's the touchstone I use: if the table of contents is sufficient to
provide full access to all the important topics a reader is likely to seek,
and can be skimmed quickly enough to make finding these topics efficient
(i.e., the TOC is no longer than about a page), then there's no need of an
index. Once there are enough subtopics and topics per page (and in total)
that the entries in the table of contents no longer provide enough
information to point to specific subtopics, then an index is either useful
or necessary. So it comes down to a brief assessment of your reader's needs:
if the TOC reliably points them to the correct page, then that's sufficient
(that's most likely to happen when each entry in the TOC falls on a single
page, and doesn't have a variety of subtopics that aren't obvious from the
heading on that page). Where a heading contains several subtopics that are
not obvious from the heading, then you need an index to provide more
details. (You also need a better heading, but that's not the problem I'm
getting at here.)

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Technical writing... requires understanding the audience, understanding
what activities the user wants to accomplish, and translating the often
idiosyncratic and unplanned design into something that appears to make
sense."--Donald Norman, The Invisible Computer

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