Re. Numbered headings

Subject: Re. Numbered headings
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Tue, 23 Apr 1996 17:30:18 -0500

John Sturman asked about the advantages and disadvantages
of using numbered headings. John, the main advantage is to
make cross-references easier for _you_ to implement, but
not necessarily for the reader to use: for example, what is
the difference in usability between "see page 23" and "see
section 1.1"?

There are two main situations in which numbered headings
have a strong advantage:

- Numbered headings make it easier to refer to a specific
portion of a page that will have many headings and
subheadings; however, an appropriate textual reference may
still work just as well (e.g., "see _printing on a network_
on page 23" versus "see section 3.1.1 on p.23").

- Numbered headings can be very effective if you're writing
to a specific standard for which the audience has the
section headings memorized. In that case, you're playing to
their strength: they already know what each section means.
Lawyers and tax accountants often work this way.

Your colleague is correct in stating that numbered headings
make a document _appear_ complex. Moreover, if you have so
many levels of heading that you need numbered headings to
make the structure clear, this may be a sign that the
problem extends beyond appearance and into the realm of
unclear or ineffective organisation of the information. You
should be able to handle almost any subject using three or
four unnumbered levels of heading, and with this few
levels, numbers won't help appreciably.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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