Re: To number or not to number (#732992)

Subject: Re: To number or not to number (#732992)
From: Bill Burns <wburns -at- MICRON -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 22 Apr 1996 11:58:56 -0600

22-APR-1996 09:13:19.20

>This writer asserts that numbering section numbering makes a
>product look more complicated. We are working towards making our product
>appear more user friendly. None of our direct competitors are using
>section numbering as far as we can tell. I have looked through a huge
>amount of manuals looking to see what other companies are doing. Most
>are not using numbering.

>My arguments for the use of numbering are that 1)it allows for easier
>random access to information in a document because it shows the hierarchy
>of sections in relation to each other so the reader can find their
>location in reference to their desired destination. I also think that
>having section numbers makes cross-referencing much easier to implement
>and read. We do a lot of cross-referencing to other parts of our
>documentation, so this aspect is pretty important.

My experience is that section numbering CAN be useful, but it's often
implemented in such a way that it becomes visual noise, and I've found other
means that work as well or better than numbering. If clear subordination of
ideas is the goal, then good page design that enhances the user's intuitive
grasp of the information can be more helpful than section numbering. Visual
subordination relays conceptual structure more effectively than numbers
alone--as long as it's done correctly (a generalization, yes, but also borne out
by internal usability testing).

If ease of reference is your intent, then section numbering is an option. I've
found that page numbers with header references can perform the same function.
The only time I have found section numbering or military numbering to be helpful
is when people communicate errors in the text. Otherwise, cross-references seem
to depend more upon the quality of the reference rather than its medium (i.e.,
how much detail your reference can provide).

I agree that documents with section numbering seem more complicated than they
are--especially if you've never seen such a scheme before.

Bill Burns
Assembly Training and Documentation Supervisor

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