Re: page column widths

Subject: Re: page column widths
From: Gary Bastoky <garyb -at- MICROSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 21 Jun 1994 11:23:32 PDT

Say, is there a documentation designer on this List? Most of you seem
to be writers. Do you have to write and design, and if so, how do you
stay objective enough to do both? Would you prefer to work with a designer?
I've been designing software documentation for about 7 years now and my
most succesful projects have been those that stress a team approach. A
team usually consists of a writer, editor, and designer working
together, and respecting the talents and training that each brings to
the project. There seems to be less ego (defensiveness) involved and
more objectivity which reflects well on the finished product.
I'm curious to know what kinds of experiencies people have had along
these lines, good and bad, and what role they see themselves providing
in the documentation process.
For instance, I see myself as a user advocate and an objective sort of
ombudsman. I have to make information accessible, which sometimes means
explaining to project managers that white space is necessary and that
8/9 times roman will get more on the page, but will not be helping the
reader at all. Or it may mean having to say to a writer, "that's an
awful lot of text on this page, and I think we can describe some of
what you're saying graphically, which might help the reader grasp the
concept more quickly." Anyway, any feedback would be appreciated.
Gary Bastoky
Sr. Graphic Designer
Microsoft Corporation
From: Shannon Ford - Technical Writer <shannon -at- UNIFACE -dot- ALAMEDA -dot- CA -dot- US>
To: Multiple recipients of list TECHWR-L <TECHWR-L -at- OSUVM1 -dot- BITNET>
Subject: page column widths
Date: Friday, June 17, 1994 1:45PM

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From: john -at- atrium -dot- com (John Gough)
Message-Id: <9406171514 -dot- AA02134 -at- rocky -dot- atrium -dot- com>
Subject: Re: page column widths
To: shannon -at- uniface -dot- alameda -dot- ca -dot- us (Shannon Ford - Technical Writer)
Date: Fri, 17 Jun 94 10:14:22 CDT
In-Reply-To: <9406162157 -dot- AA36973 -at- uniface -dot- alameda -dot- ca -dot- us>; from "Shannon
Ford - Te
chnical Writer" at Jun 16, 94 2:57 pm
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Status: RO

[ Shannon Ford - Technical Writer writes: ]
> In your recent message about resumes you mentioned the ideal column
> width is 1.5 to 2.5 alphabets.
> What is 1.5 alphabet? Can you explain what you mean (briefly) or point
> me to a reference?

An alphabet is the space taken by 26 characters (the ones in the
alphabet). I'm afraid I don't have the reference, but I seem
to remember that more than one researcher came to this conclusion.
Obviously you have to consider more factors when you're desiging
a page layout, but the conclusion at least clues you that full-page
columns are a pain.

Wouldn't it be great, fellow writers, if we had a short summary
of (attributed) research conclusions for handy reference?

The American Institutes for Research once published a report (1979?)
called 'Document Design' that attempted to do that. It covered
several areas and had a summary article and list of references for
each. It was still a book (paperbound, light blue, 8.5 x 11 --
anyone else use it?) We used it as a starting point for research
topics in a writing class.

Admittedly, if the guide fell into the wrong hands it could be
dangerous. :-) Too many people accept research conclusions as
absolute rules, rather food for thought and a nudge in the right
direction as you attempt to solve problems.

Speaking of pat answers to complex questions, InfoMapping came up in a
different thread--my take on it is that it's a handy cooky-cutter
approach that typically non-writers or less-experienced writers get
the most out of.

I wince a little at IMAP's bulldozer approach--'converts' seem to
think that InfoMapping solves *all* of your problems in *all*
situations and leaves your kitchen sparkly fresh, too. But hey, it
gave them more tools to work with than they had before, so the world
is probably a better place for them having taken the course. I've
seen 'before' and 'after' in writing samples, and 'after' is way

Netiquette breach alert--I've given you rambling coverage of two
topics in one (long) post. Whoops. Sorry.

John Gough john -at- atrium -dot- com
Principal Technical Writer voice (512) 328-6977
Atrium Technologies fax (512) 328-2789
Austin, TX

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