Re: List formats

Subject: Re: List formats
From: Beth Agnew <beth -dot- agnew -at- senecac -dot- on -dot- ca>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 2006 22:41:32 -0400

You didn't mention whether this lengthy manual has paragraph and section numbering, but let's assume that it does. Large documents definitely need some kind of navigation aid to help the user get around. If there are indeed paragraph and section numbers, then fancy bullets would make it look very cluttered. The simple and plain bullets are best, but you also need to consider how they look on the page, how the users react to them, and how they help the user acquire the information in the publication.

Arrows have the effect of drawing the user's attention to each bullet point. This is tiring for the reader, and would be exhausting on a large scale. Different kinds of bullets can be very effective -- checkmarks for unordered items that one must include in a package, for example, but they need to be used purposefully and sparingly.

Architects, engineers, and other people for whom precision is an important attribute tend to feel more comfortable with additional structure in a publication. They like numbering, lettered items, and justified text. They like to be able to refer to one specific item among many, and bullets do not allow for this. If you have paragraph and section numbering, it meets that need for visible structure so they are less likely to kvetch about things like bullets. This close to deadline, you may not want to make any wholesale changes just now; you can table the request for a change in bullets for the next version of the document and reconsider it then.

You can tell the architect (and anyone else who asks) that the bullets you selected were appropriate for the structure of the publication, just as certain materials are carefully selected for the structure of a building. Don't forget that you are the documentation expert, no matter how new you might be to the field. You are taking ownership of the publication and it is your right to make certain decisions about the look and feel of the document. As long as you can defend your decisions, and know when to fight and when to concede, you should be fine.

Kirk Turner wrote:

Now this manual runs over 1,000 pages and is full of lists. To me, if the
manual is full of these fancy arrows, it won't make a good impression.
Beth Agnew
Presenting "Podcasting & Vidcasting: The Future of TechComm"
at the STC Conference, Las Vegas, NV, 2 p.m. May 10, 2006

Professor, Technical Communication
Seneca College of Applied Arts & Technology
Toronto, ON 416.491.5050 x3133


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List formats: From: Kirk Turner

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