RE: Numbered versus unnumbered heads in very technical reference guides

Subject: RE: Numbered versus unnumbered heads in very technical reference guides
From: Fred Ridder <docudoc -at- hotmail -dot- com>
To: Julie Stickler <jstickler -at- gmail -dot- com>, tech2wr-l <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 18 Jun 2013 17:17:51 -0400

Julie Stickler wrote:

> From what I've been told, numbered headings are a legacy from the days when
> documentation lived in three ring binders. And when a documentation
> updated happened, it was "replace section 5.1.3 with this new section
> 5.1.3." Which seems to me to be the only benefit of numbered headings.
>
> Leonard asked a good question. How would the numbers help the user? In my
> case, they don't.

I've been trying hard to refrain from responding in this thread, but I have lost the battle.

If the customer's only source of information is reading the documentation, I agree that numbered headings may not be much help to them. But if the customer will ever interact with customer support people, numbered headings can be really, really useful as signposts to ensure that both parties are referring to the same chunk of information. It's much easier, faster, and much less ambiguous to point the customer to Section 6.3.2 than to try to direct them to the third paragraph on page 89 or to the "Things to watch out for" subsection under the "Configuration options" section in the "Frumious interface" chapter. And if those same section and subsection titles occur in multiple chapters (as often happens, particularly as we strive for more reuse of content), the advantage of a unique indentifying number becomes even greater. Two or three employers ago, I was responsible for providing tech support to our company's overseas resellers as well as writing the tech docs themselves, and I have to say that I would have gone postal if I hadn't used numbered headings in all the docs I produced.

-Fred Ridder





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Follow-Ups:

References:
RE: Use if xrefs in topic based or minimalist writing: From: Porrello, Leonard
Numbered versus unnumbered heads in very technical reference guides: From: Matt Gras
RE: Numbered versus unnumbered heads in very technical reference guides: From: Erika Yanovich
Re: Numbered versus unnumbered heads in very technical reference guides: From: Julie Stickler

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