TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Since everyone seems to be sharing their opinions of military-style numbering
systems, I'll share mine.
Presently at Micron, we use a VAX-based documentation system. We've begun
developing a PC-based system that will allow us to use various tools to create
documents (Frame, Word, whatever). One of the questions we've had to deal
with concerns our present format using, you guessed it, military-style
numbering. We have few options with our VAX documents, considering the
limited formatting options available (i.e., virtually nil). However, many of
us see the move to PC authoring tools as an opportunity to junk the military
numbering altogether. In order to justify this move, however, we have had to
demonstrate that this numbering system really does not work as well as the
present administration seems to think. We formed a task force, created a
number of different formats with various layouts (some with numbering, some
without), and we had a cross section of users pick the features they liked the
Almost all of them said (without any demonstrations or suggestions) that
they'd really just like "to click on that word in the table of contents and
jump to that information." (We weren't surprised.) Most of the operator-
level users indicated that they saw the numbering system as excessive
(sometimes indenting seven levels--four with x.x.x.x type numbering, then an
additional three of letters and single numbers). The trainers invariably
indicated the same concerns. Additional useability testing done on site
previous to our study indicated that this numbering increased the visual
"noise" and created a distraction for readers, especially with ESL people).
However, supervisors and engineers preferred to use numbering because of the
ease of referencing. They found it much easier to write, "Go to 220.127.116.11-A,"
than to write, "Go to the third paragraph, fourth line of 'Rebuilding the
Autospanker.'" (No kidding--this machine exists :-) We couldn't pursuade
them that the numbering did not make a document that much easier to use or
that hypertext could reduce the need online for overt references. The powers
wanted some kind of numbering, so we had to find a compromise.
We developed a format that allowed military-style numbering in the headings
only. In addition, to cut down on the abuses of the numbering system and the
tendency of some writers to indent themselves flush right, we plan to spend
more time discussing document design. We figured that if people could learn
more effective design methods, the abuses of the numbering system could be
I hate military numbering, but if I only have two-level headings and only have
to number the headings, I can live with it.
Bill Burns *
Assm. Technical Writer/Editor * LIBERTY, n. One of imagination's most
Micron Technology, Inc. * precious possessions.
Boise, ID *
WBURNS -at- VAX -dot- MICRON -dot- COM * Ambrose Bierce