Re: To number or not to number

Subject: Re: To number or not to number
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher -at- EXPERSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 22 Apr 1996 11:26:14 -0700

At 11:08 AM 4/22/96 +0100, John Sturman wrote:
>Hi everybody,

>I would like some feedback about what you all think about the use of
>numbering sections in computer-related technical documentation.

>For as long as I have been in my present position (3 years) my department
>has been using section numbering in our documentation sets (chapter 2,
>section 2.1, section 2.1.1, etc.). We have a new head writer who wants to
>change all that. I would like to hear from as many of you as I can about
>your opinions regarding the use of section numbering in computer
>documentation.

>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.


Well, John, as is so often the case in technical writing, it depends on
your audience, and to some extent, your product.

In general, for a very technical document and for sophisticated readers,
heading numbering is acceptable. I use hierarchical numbering here at
Expersoft because we write highly technical material for a target
audience of programmers. I used hierarchical numbering at other
employers sites, too, for a very sophisticated application development
system.

However, when I worked at StarBase, I did not use hierarchical numbering
in my documents because the product was less technical, less complicated,
and aimed at a less sophisticated target audience (occasional programmers
and document production teams).

This is a relatively recent trend. Years ago, it was all numbered. But
then again, years ago it was all passive voice, it was all third person,
and the only ones that used computers were nerds. ;-)

Making technology more accessible to the masses includes making the
documentation less intimidating. Since hierarchical numbering tends
to make a document look intimidating, it's usually one of the first
things to go during a product's accessibility phase. Your competitors
have already made the leap. What are you guys waiting for???


Sue Gallagher
sgallagher -at- expersoft -dot- com
--Reality is frequently inaccurate.

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