Re: Figures in User Manuals

Subject: Re: Figures in User Manuals
From: "Elna Tymes" <etymes -at- lts -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2001 10:03:43 -0800

Claire Philpott wrote:

> In principle I am against adding figures to a User Manual/Reference Guide. I
> feel that Users locate relevant information through a list of task based
> entries in an index than through a list of screen shoots.
> Am I right in feeling this is more relevant for a technical publication
> targeted at a technical audience? Is there a compelling reason why I should
> or should not include the figures?

Like a previous poster, I'm not sure what you mean by "figures," as opposed to
screen shots. However, on the assumption that you mean any kind of graphics, I
disagree. Many third-party book usability studies have demonstrated that users
like graphics, particularly screen shots, as they're working through a set of
instructions or explanations. It's easier for them to verify what they're
trying to do.

Some college textbook writers assume that the less graphics, the more scholarly
and hence prestigious the book. Within some narrowly definition of "prestige,"
that may be true but in terms of usability, page upon page of text just plain
sucks. Few things make a reader sleepy faster. In terms of reaching a
technical audience, usability findings apply too - technical folks benefit from
screen shots and graphics as much as ordinary users, sometimes more (although
they may be looking at/for different things).

And each figure, whether it's a screen shot or a drawing or some other kind of
graphic, should have its own title and number, mostly because it's easier to
refer to "figure n-n" or "title" than to "the figure on the next page." An
added benefit is that you can create a list of figures (frequently included
right behind the TOC); another added benefit is that numbering and labeling the
figures helps you keep track of which one is which.

Sorry to disagree with you.

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems


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