Re: Chapter summaries at start of doc: yes/no?

Subject: Re: Chapter summaries at start of doc: yes/no?
From: Janice Gelb <janice -dot- gelb -at- sun -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Wed, 25 Oct 2006 08:18:35 +1000

Sarah Bouchier wrote:

In the last couple of companies I've worked for, the documentation
template called for a summary, at the start of the document, of what was
in each chapter. I'm contemplating getting rid of these, for the
following reasons:
1. The Table of Contents should be sufficient to tell you what's in a
chapter. If it's not succeeding, you need to reconsider your headings.

2. Ditto the index.

3. Nobody ever remembers to update the summary.

However, if my logic were really that overwhelmingly obvious and
correct, nobody would be using start-of-document summaries. So... what
am I missing?

We include a brief list in the book preface of the
chapter titles and what each chapter includes. To
answer your points in order:

1. The Table of Contents doesn't serve the same purpose
as a list of chapter titles and brief descriptions. For
one thing, chapter titles are limited to 5 or 6 words,
which in many instances can't fully describe the contents
of the chapter. Also, chapter titles often include
terminology that makes sense only after you've learned
something about the product or interface.

2. To use an index, you have to know what you're looking
for. A chapter description list could potentially let
readers know about some content that they might not think
of or expect to be included in the book.

3. At the very least, the links to the chapter will
be correct as we already check for them automatically
but it's true that if content is added or deleted to
a chapter, the writer potentially could forget to
update the description.

My approach on this issue is that our summaries are at
most a page for a long book and as they potentially
help the reader and don't hurt anything, why not provide

-- Janice

Janice Gelb | The only connection Sun has with
janice -dot- gelb -at- sun -dot- com | this message is the return address.

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Chapter summaries at start of doc: yes/no?: From: Sarah Bouchier

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