Re. Identifying commands in text

Subject: Re. Identifying commands in text
From: Geoff Hart <geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Tue, 24 Oct 1995 08:44:12 LCL

Traci Eyer asked how to identify commands or buttons in
documentation. The simplest and least intrusive approach is
to use a monospaced "typewriter" font (e.g., some variant
of Courier) that differs visually from the typical
proportional font (e.g., Times) used for the body text.
This works well for two main reasons: the weight (darkness)
of the font is similar enough to that of the main text that
the commands don't hit the reader in the face (unlike, say,
boldface or all caps), yet the visual difference is enough
to explain that the word is something different from the
main description. Stay away from all caps, because in some
software, the commands are case-sensitive: for example, in
the Mac version of WordPerfect, command-w closes a window
but command-shift-W (the upper-case equivalent) switches
between open windows.

You can also use "key caps" fonts, letters that have little
bounding boxes and thus resemble keyboard keys, but I find
these visually jarring for long stretches such as words or
complex chains such as "choose file-->open-->test". They do
work very well for such things as "press command-option-S",
in which they replace the spelled-out names for the command
and option keys with visual depictions (in my experience,
some neophytes don't instantly learn which is the command
or option key) and they also shorten the text. Again, you
have to minimize this use because the square boxes stand
out and the page looks like a ransom letter if the boxes
are too abundant.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

Disclaimer: If I didn't commit it in print in one of our
reports, it don't represent FERIC's opinion.

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