Question about ascending vs. descending order....?

Subject: Question about ascending vs. descending order....?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 13 Mar 2002 11:07:09 -0500

Susie Pearson wonders: <<An application sorts messages by date, the oldest
date is listed first, the newest date is listed last. Is this considered
'ascending'? The same application sorts names A-Z. Is this considered

"Ascending" is used to indicate movement from an early point in a series to
a later point. Since dates and alphabetical listings both have a
recognizable order (oldest to newest and A to Z, respectively), then
starting with the oldest date or the first letter of the alphabet makes it
clear the order is "ascending".

However, the fact that you had to ask the question, and that I had to think
about how to express my answer clearly, suggests the problem with this
approach: the terms "ascending" and "descending" don't relate directly to
the concept a nontechnical reader is grappling with, and thus, they're not
necessarily the best words for the job. What I mean is that the concepts are
more abstract than simpler terms that relate more directly to the terms
readers would choose: for dates, the concept is "sorting from oldest to
newest" (or vice versa), and for names, sorting "in alphabetical order" or
"in reverse alphabetical order" would likely be clearer. As neither is
significantly longer than "ascending" and "descending" order, why not use
them instead?

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"When ideas fail, words come in very handy."--Goethe

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