RE: Using tables for content

Subject: RE: Using tables for content
From: "Janoff, Steven" <Steven -dot- Janoff -at- ga -dot- com>
To: "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Sean <seanb_us -at- yahoo -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 24 Oct 2013 09:23:36 -0700

Interesting question. Seems like an older style, more engineering-oriented. I'm thinking of the Edmond Weiss books and the STOP documents from the 60s.

There are at least two aspects: usability, and convenience for the author.

In Word I know tables add a constraint and it's usually a little gnarlier to deal with than "free" (unconstrained) paragraphs. Table cells and tables overall can create formatting problems. But if you can master tables, that's always great.

I'd consider drafting a sample both ways and then see how it looks, get feedback -- both your own intuition and then thoughts from trusted colleagues or users.

Anecdotally, at two jobs where I've worked, we converted such older table-style procedure formatting into a more "free," ordered list-based approach. But I believe that was about author convenience and maybe prepping for input into a CMS system, rather than usability.

I'd be interested in any research studies addressing the usability side of tables versus open formatting for procedures (if any has been done). I also look at things like DITA and S1000D which use ordered lists for procedures. The "author convenience" part also depends on your tools.


PS - To me this is a question of Information Design or Information Architecture rather than formatting. You also have to answer the question of whether you're leaving the borders on, which I assume you are. On vs. off may affect usability.

-----Original Message-----
From: On Behalf Of Sean
Sent: Thursday, October 24, 2013 6:45 AM
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: Using tables for content

Hi all,

So, whilst I search the archives, can we have a live discussion on the pros and cons of using tables for tech writing content. Consider a traditional procedure that uses step: in the left column, the action, and in the right column, the result. It seems, for Word, each row needs to be numbered manually.

Conversely, there is standard ordered list approach without using a table.



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