Re: Writing for Translation

Subject: Re: Writing for Translation
From: "Lippincott, Richard" <RLippincott -at- as-e -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 8 Aug 2009 09:24:53 -0400

Beverly Johnson said:

>Yes, yes, and yes! I have never understood why the Technical

>Communication community puts the user's needs above our own

>convenience in every area except callouts on illustrations.

>Then the standard practice is for us to take the easy,

>less expensive path for us and usability has to take second place.

Actually, there's a fairly easy way to do this in a way that is both
usable -and- solves the translation problem.

An all-too-common way of indexing the callouts in a figure is to key
them to the order that they appear in the text. For example if it's a
disassembly procedure, the first part removed gets to be #1, the second
part removed gets to be #2, and so forth. This is probably the easiest
way for us to write, because we just keep incrementing the numbers by
one as we write the procedure.

The problem is that often this results in the user having to hunt for
index numbers that seem to be scattered randomly around the

The situation isn't any easier for the reader when the illustration uses
text instead of numbers. Finding an index number 17 seemingly placed at
random isn't any easier when instead of "17" it says "hex bolt."

We use index numbers, but run them in order on the illustration instead
of in the text. We put index #1 at roughly the 12:00 position and then
run the numbers consecutively and clockwise around the object. Looking
for #17? Oh look, there's #12, so #17 must be five more ticks clockwise
around the circle. Yep!

It's easier for the user, it's less expensive during translation. It's a
little less easy for us during the writing, but not significantly more

We didn't originate the idea, it's been in use in some types of manuals
for a long time. It does seem useful, usable, and easier on translation,

Rick Lippincott
Technical Writer
American Science & Engineering
829 Middlesex Turnpike
Billerica, MA 01821-3907
978-262-8807 (direct)
978-495-2335 (mobile)
978-262-8702 (fax)

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