using notes

Subject: using notes
From: Tom Little <LITTLE_TOM_H -at- OFVAX -dot- LANL -dot- GOV>
Date: Fri, 27 Jan 1995 13:37:00 MDT

An anonymous poster writes:

> My department is currently reevaluating how we use notes in our manuals.
> Cautions and warnings seem to have clear guidelines, because of their legal
> ramifications and evolution out of the Mil Spec and standards worlds. Using
> notes seems to be less well-defined for style and usage. How do you use
> notes? What are their purpose? How many are too many?

This is a subtle question. When I was writing procedures, we used notes to
present supplemental information that is not necessary to successfully complete
the task. A note could not contain any "action step" for the reader. This
definition makes notes subordinate to the document text. They might be thought
of as "asides."

However, it is also common (especially in less formal contexts) to use notes to
identify information that is especially IMPORTANT for some reason. These might
be thought of as "alerts."

I'm uncomfortable with these two opposite connotations living side-by-side. I
wonder how many readers approach a note thinking it is incidental when in fact
it is essential, or vice versa.

The more I think about it, the more it seems that the word "NOTE" sends a very
ambiguous message to the reader. Perhaps the "NOTE" label should be replaced by
more specific terms, more clearly identifying the type of information that




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