Re: | (on) vs. O (off) (#424084)

Subject: Re: | (on) vs. O (off) (#424084)
From: Bill Burns <wburns -at- MICRON -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 29 Jul 1996 13:04:23 MDT

>Our new hardware product has a power switch that is labelled "O" for OFF and
>"|" for ON. These are not a zero and a one, but a circle and a vertical line.
> I've seen this labelling on a lot of electronic gadgets, including electronic
>typewriters and word processors (and quite frankly was always confused about
>what was on and what was off). A colleague suggested that these labels
>represent the bits 0 and 1 and were derived from that. True?

The explanation sounds plausible. However, I think it's too broad a conceptual
leap *for most people* from binary (0/1) to off/on. This practice may also
simply be an attempt at providing nonethnocentric symbols to machines (as if
this were so simple) so the systems can be more easily marketed internationally.
Or it may be a misguided attempt at brevity. I think many people overextend the
idea of concise writing to mean writing using the least number of characters or
symbols possible (or writing using less char./symb. ;-).

Back to your main question--I'd describe all of the buttons, switches, and their
accompanying labels early in the manual and explain the corresponding switch
positions for each option. You might provide a procedure (in a section called
"Getting Started" or "Machine Basics") for turning the machine on and off.
Then, in the body of the procedures, simply write, "Turn the power on/off." If
many procedures require the system to be turned off and on again, you probably
want to avoid having to explain the symbols every time--unless you're writing
modular documents and need to provide that level of context for each chunk of

Bill Burns
Assembly Training and Documentation Supervisor

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