Paragraph numbering? (take II)

Subject: Paragraph numbering? (take II)
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Jonathan West <jwest -at- mvps -dot- org>
Date: Mon, 27 Nov 2006 11:06:57 -0500

Jonathan West noted another important advantage of numbered headings: <<I would suggest that looking up a cross-reference based on the number is far more efficient than the name, especially in a longer document, because the numbering is sequential.>>

Good point. I was thinking primarily of shorter documents, and I suspect you're correct that as document length and complexity grows, the use of numbered headings adds increasing value. However, that being said:

<<If you don't already know where "Methods, Applying for a court date, in Montreal" is, you have to look it up in the Table of Contents (which is not ordered alphabetically) or the index (if the document happens to have one, and if this item happens to have been indexed in the way you have described), and then you look up the page number. The process of getting to the right page based on the page number is pretty much the same as getting to the right page based on the section number, but you have had to make an additional lookup to get to the point where you have a page number to find.>>

I should have noted (rather than leaving implicit) that references to the heading alone are not sufficient. In a longer document, adding an "on page 123" type of cross-reference is a great kindness to the reader--indeed, I'd go so far as to say that it's essential. The page number then accomplishes one of the same goals as the numbered headings: directing the reader to the correct page without requiring a trip to the TOC or index.

The word-based cross-reference then offers the advantage of greater "friendliness" to a general audience that may be intimidated by numbers. By no means am I stating that we should assume our audience is less intelligent than we are. But we should consider whether numbering creates yet another disincentive to read our docs for an audience that already has plenty of excuses. I can report several personal examples of people (family and friends) who find numbering somewhat intimidating--and although I do not offer this observation as an indictment of numbering schemes, I do offer it as one data point: we need to know whether this may be a problem for a given audience and if it is, to adopt alternative solutions that are less intimidating.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca

(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)

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RE: Paragraph numbering?: From: Jonathan West

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