"Nested" headings?

Subject: "Nested" headings?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 28 Mar 2002 09:20:13 -0500


Ellen Vanrenen reports: <<a colleague... has suggested that I change my
template to use "nested" [indented] headings... His idea is that we can look
at the document as if its contents could be "collapsed" under the headings.
I like a simpler, straighter approach. I dislike any page that looks even
slightly busy, and I like the Heading style more or less parallel. Readers
would see a symmetrical page.>>

Both approaches have their merits. An advantage of nested heads is that it
facilitates skimming under certain circumstances: readers skip over the
white space seeking the next heading indented to the same level. However,
this poses problems if you have more than about three headings because you
waste lots of space; in a typical 5x7" manual, you might eventually end up
with inch-wide text columns hard against the right margin. <g> Despite
mixing the headings into the text (making them slightly harder to pick out),
your approach is cleaner, simpler, and uses space more efficiently. That's
important when you have lots of levels of heading and a small page.

But the issue of requiring five levels of heading suggests that you may have
a hierarchical problem; I've met few readers who can easily keep more than
three heading levels clear in their head. (Lawyers and those who deal with
military specs eventually learn to deal with such complex heading
structures, but I doubt that even they claim that they find it easy.) In
most cases, you can simplify a document down to three levels of heading if
you break complicated topics into chapters and divide chapters into
sections. Each Chapter and each Section accounts for one of your five
levels, leaving only three levels that require formatting variations within
each chapter. Worth thinking about...

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