Clipart in technical documentst: opinions needed (reply)

Subject: Clipart in technical documentst: opinions needed (reply)
From: Kent Newton <KentN -at- METRIX-INC -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 23 Feb 1996 21:21:00 PST


We discussed this very thing in this list about 3 weeks ago. I don't
know if there was a concensus, but I believe the use of graphics depends
on the subject matter, the tone of the manual, and the intended audience.
Does the audience consist of novices or experienced systems personnel?
Are you using an informal tone (using "you" voice, contractions, etc.)
or formal tone (a lot of passive constructions)? The answer to these
questions will help you decide whether the use of clipart is appropriate.
From your second concern, I'd assume the manual is highly technical in
nature, but I can't tell whether it is aimed at experienced systems
personnel or novices. When in doubt, I probably would refrain from using
clipart, or at least minimize its use.

Generally, I feel that minimal use of clipart is okay. We use a small
bomb in the margin next to warnings where a mistake could "blow away"
data, but that's it. Occasional clipart does act as a visual alert to
repeated elements, such as with our warnings. I would never use clipart
next to every minor heading: overuse reduces clipart's effectiveness. I
would rarely use clipart in a serious tome aimed at a highly technical

I would also be very careful of the clipart I select. For example, the
image of a "curtseying maid" could be offensive to some audience members:
it appears to promote a subservient position for women. In today's PC
(that's politically correct, not personal computer) world, you must be
aware of subtle messages that you portray in your documentation. Also,
Sherlock Holmes may be too obscure to be recognized (I doubt it, but may
be), especially if your manual is to be translated for use outside the
U.S. The phone is probably safe.

Kent Newton
Senior Technical Writer
Metrix, Inc.
kentn -at- metrix-inc -dot- com

On Wednesday, February 21, 1996 5:13 PM, Kathleen wrote:
>I need some opinions about using clipart in technical documentation.
>For example [snipped]:

>sherlock holmes silhouette next to the word Troubleshooting
>phone next to the title "Call Accounting"
>curtseying maid next to "Call Accounting with Maid Status"

>I have 2 concerns:

>1. that the document will look too busy with a clipart next to every
>minor heading [snipped].

>2. that it will distract from the seriousness/technical nature of the
>document. We've put these graphics in newseletters and even marketing
>and sales documents, but this is a technical reference manual explaining
>how to install and use various interfaces with our Hotel package.

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