RE: Paragraph numbering - industry standard?

Subject: RE: Paragraph numbering - industry standard?
From: "Claire Conant" <Claire -dot- Conant -at- Digeo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 4 Aug 2005 06:53:51 -0700

>>Firstly, as a technical writer it's not really our place to
>>"see the point". We have to give the customer/audience what they want.

I disagree. The customer/audience doesn't always know what they want, or
that there is a better alternative than what they ask for. They just
want the information, and it is the writer and editor's job to make sure
they get it - clearly and without unnecessary distractions. That's why
we are skilled and trained in document design, usability, writing,
editing, and so on, and they are not.

>>What I find really ridiculous in these oft repeated rants against
>>paragraph numbering is that it is being done on the basis of design
>>not communication/utility.

The two are not mutually exclusive. IMO, design IS communication.
(Edward Tufte comes to mind here.) If you have poor document design, and
I've seen my share, the writer's message is lost.

>> Additionally, the griping is being done in an
>> age where adding the numbering is child's play once a template is set

And numbering is SOOO much easier than writing clearly, or effectively
crafting a heading, or putting thought into chapter organization and
page numbering.

>>If there is going to be ANY discussion about a document, numbering is
>>ESSENTIAL. It is precise and easy to enter in minutes of meetings.

So are page numbers.

>>If the document is going to be produced in many formats, identical
>>numbering in each format will provide a definite link between the two.

Anyone convert their numbered documents to online help? Numbered
paragraphs in online help look silly, and are unnecessary.

>>And if the document is ever printed, numbering gives the user quick
>>to all information in the document without having to always go to an
>>or remember page numbers. And an index instead? ROTFL! If you can't be

>>bothered to put the TINY effort into numbering the doc, what are the
>>chance the effort will be expended to index properly?

Are you suggesting substituting paragraph and section numbering for
indexing - just to save time? Sorry, but I think remembering
"Installation wrap-up" is much easier to remember than "" What
if the reader is dyslexic? Will they turn it into Then where
are they? Oops... we just taught them how to hook the widget to the VCR
instead of the TV. Hmmm. And how many of us have trouble remembering our
cell phone number? Forget remembering a section number.

>>If the numbering also has technical meaning, it is also invaluable in
>>quickly navigating to relevant sections.

So are hyperlinks. Faster too.

>>Even without technical meaning, it quickly identifies a paragraphs
>>relationship to other sections. If similar subjects are consistently
>>broken into the same structure, finding specific information about a
new >>subject is as simple as scanning for the numbering.

So is thoughtful crafting of headings. See earlier comments.

>>The difference between 1.2.1 and is obvious.

Has anyone ever done a study of readers about number recognition versus
word recognition? If so, that would be interesting to read.

>>In an unnumbered document, slight changes in heading size and a
variation >>in layout is not necessarily obvious.

This would be a flaw in design. Good document design makes it very

>>So, some think numbering is "ugly" and a hold over. I think unnumbered

>>docs are unwieldy to use and produced by people putting style over
>>substance, too lazy or incompetent to number, or who don't want their
>>organisational failures to be made clear by numbering.

Harsh words here *senior* technical writer. Laziness or incompetence has
nothing to do with it. It has to do with the big picture - the whole
book - design, content, usability.

I still have not heard any convincing argument to sway me from my
opinion that numbered headings/paragraphs remain simply because that's
what people have done in the past and "that's what they want".

Ever hear the story of why Grandma cut the ends off the roast each
Thanksgiving? Daughter, grand-daughter, and great-granddaughter all
continued the tradition because "that's the way it is done", when in
fact, it was because Grandma didn't have a pan big enough.

Claire Conant
Technical Editor
Digeo, Inc.


Now Shipping -- WebWorks ePublisher Pro for Word! Easily create online
Help. And online anything else. Redesigned interface with a new
project-based workflow. Try it today!

You are currently subscribed to techwr-l as:
archiver -at- techwr-l -dot- com
To unsubscribe send a blank email to leave-techwr-l-obscured -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Send administrative questions to lisa -at- techwr-l -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.


Previous by Author: RE: Paragraph numbering - industry standard?
Next by Author: RE: meta data
Previous by Thread: RE: Paragraph numbering - industry standard?
Next by Thread: RE: Paragraph numbering - industry standard?

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads