Gerunds Always in Headings for Online Help?

Subject: Gerunds Always in Headings for Online Help?
From: Jim Hager <jhager -at- techrx -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 27 Mar 2002 17:04:32 -0500


I've read most of the recent threads on gerunds but this post addresses a
different look at gerunds. Specifically, I want to get opinions of using
gerunds in headers for a doc that will be primarliy used as online help in a
Web-based application (application is on a central server, thin client PC at
user sites) .

For years, just like most other tech writers, I've been using gerunds as the
standard for headers, as in the following:
- Getting Started
- Adding a User
- Producing Reports
- Maintaining Inventory Information
- Performing the ABC Activity
- Exploring the ABC Window

The project I'm curently working on will be used primarily as online help.
In fact, some very large clients with perhaps 1000's of installs of our
software have told me that they do not plan to distribute the hardcopy
documentation because it's too much trouble to update. The application is
Web-based so we can update the application and the online help on the server
as needed. This way all users gets access to the updates simultaneously.

Here's the issue. When I look at the the resulting online help, with its 500
or so topics (one per heading), I think that it is not easy for the user to
scroll and find the topic they are looking for because there might be 20 or
so topics starting with the same gerund. Also, the user cannot simply scan
the gerunds that start the topic to find whatthey want; instead they need to
look at the second, third, or fourth (Why is it fourty and forty? Why not
fourth and fourty?) word in the topic to see if that is the one they want.

Even if they use on index search or a text search, they will get lots of
matches on some gerunds used many times.

For example the gerunds maintaining, performing, processing, and exploring
appear numerous times. And these gerunds don't really show the user the real
activity they are looking for.

The bottom line is that the user is really looking for the Product
Maintenance, not Maintaining Product Information. They are really looking
for Inventory Search, not Searching for an Inventory Item.

1. Has anybody else seen how this use of gerunds might get in the way of the
user finding what they are looking for?
2. Has anybody else come up with another scheme for naming the heading so
that gerunds can be eliminated or used less often?
3. If the answer to #2 is Yes, would you please share?

I'd appreciate any comments on this issue.


Jim Hager
jhager -at- techrx -dot- com

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