"I, User" (re numbering schemes)

Subject: "I, User" (re numbering schemes)
From: Ken d'Albenas <kendal -at- AUTOTROL -dot- CUC -dot- AB -dot- CA>
Date: Sun, 21 Nov 1993 20:01:30 MST

Alexandra Bernstein wrote:

> as a manual user, I find sequential page numbers much simpler to
> deal with than chapter-by-chapter numbers

> imho

It's good to see someone speaking up on behalf of the _users_.
We've had adequate discussion of why compound page numbering is convenient
for the _publishers_ (updating pages, for example). As a tech writer,
however, I am a User's Advocate. Therefore, I get meaner than a junkyard
dog at the first sniff of a "convenience" or "progress" issue UNLESS IT
ADDS TO THE USER'S CONVENIENCE (be it compound page numbering or electronic
document distribution). I don't write for my company; I write for the
users of my company's products.

However, I would have said the exact opposite of Alexandra! Compound page
numbering is a natural outgrowth of information engineering. Why do we
have chapters at all? Why headers and footers? Why do we use numbers for
chapters, but letters for appendices? Why do we have page numbers at all?

To help convey information effectively, that's why.


As Paul Goble submitted,

> IMHO, the page numbering method (per se) is unimportant for readers.
> What IS important is that every page is clearly labelled with the
> chapter number, chapter name, and section name.

Anybody disagree with that?

Now, with my "User" hat on, if I'm reading a complex technical document,
I want as many signposts as possible to help me navigate. I probably
don't read a manual cover-to-cover, from front to back. If I buy a home
carpentry book to learn how to install insulation, I may never crack
either the introduction or the chapter about paperhanging. Pages 1 - 15,
145 - 236, and 275 - 320 are irrelevant. Simple sequential page numbers are irr

I, User, appreciate seeing the chapter and appendix numbers embedded in
section and figure and table and page numbers (e.g., Section 4.8, Figure
4.12, Table 4.3, page 4-19). I like plenty of cross references in the
text, too. And I practically _worship_ tab dividers.

When I want to look up something in, say, Appendix D, tab dividers are
the best thing going. Absent the tab dividers, though, compound numbering
of all sorts helps me find my target. I can flip through the pages and...
- if I see "page F-12" or "Figure F.2," I know I need to come back
toward the front*
- if I see "Section 6.2," I need to go toward the back
- if I hit "page 2-3," I know I need to go 'WAY-Y-Y toward the back
- if I see "page C-30" or "D-5," I know I'm almost there.

* Aside: isn't it one of those wonderful :-\ semantic paradoxes that
you flip BACKWARD to get to the FRONT of a book, and FORWARD to get
to the BACK.

Thus, compound numbering is convenient for publisher and user alike -
unless it gets _too_ compound.

Ah, "Define `too compound!'" you say. To give the opposing camp its due,
compound numbering _is_ a little cryptic. It may "feel" cold. Mechanical.

And there's no arguing that in the hands of old-school legal/military/
bean-counter mentality (oh, I can feel the flames already!), it can run amok. T
like "" is as baffling as a software release number like
"ORACLE Release". (The Oracle gods would make me pay for that
jab if they could reach me.)

All of which supports the need for focussed audience analysis, not
reliance upon either introspection or one-size-fits-all "studies."
After all, as that great man of physics and Nobel laureate, Ernest
Rutherford, once wrote,

"The only possible interpretation of research in the
social `sciences' is: some do, some don't."


Ken d'Albenas (not Kendal Stitzel)
Replies to: kendal -at- autotrol -dot- cuc -dot- ab -dot- ca
Flames to: kendal@/dev/not

"I filled out an application that asked, 'In Case of Emergency Notify.'
I wrote, "Doctor." What's my mother going to do?"
- Steven Wright.


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