RE: Chapter Titles in Tech. Documentation

Subject: RE: Chapter Titles in Tech. Documentation
From: Mike West <Mike -dot- West -at- oz -dot- quest -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 30 Aug 2002 11:50:36 +1000

Johanne asks:

> What's the word on using gerunds in headings in technical
> documentation?

Gerundive titles and headings are usually
recommended for procedural material by
instructional designers and people who
have spent time in the field observing how
people use instructional material and what
design strategies work best for different
types of material.

Why gerunds? It's all about using headings
that are action-oriented rather than static
and opaque. When I turn to my user guide
I don't want (98% of the time) to read ABOUT
something. Instead, I want to find out HOW TO
DO something. Action-based headings and titles
make it easier for me to find the instructions I
need. It puts the focus on what I want
to accomplish.

For material that is chiefly discursive rather
than procedural/instructional, the sort of
abstract headings you suggest are fine, although
"Post-Audiotex Behavior" doesn't really tell me
what aspects of Post-Audiotex Behavior are
under discussion and why I might want to read
it. It needs to be more focused, unless you are
intending to cover absolutely everything anyone
might want to know about Post-Audiotex Behavior.

You say that using gerundive titles "sometimes
makes the headings needlessly cumbersome," but
you don't give an example of a needlessly
cumbersome heading. I think clarity is the more
important criterion when creating headings for
technical information. Give your reader the
shortest path to the information he or she needs
at a given moment -- don't make them forage.

You might want to have a look at the following
references for discussions of procedural/action-
oriented versus definitional/topic-oriented

* Dynamics in Document Design (Schriver)
* Developing Quality Technical Information (Hargis)
* Standards for Online Communication (Hackos)

Mike West
Melbourne, Australia


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