Section numbering

Subject: Section numbering
From: Ian White <ian -at- IFWTECH -dot- DEMON -dot- CO -dot- UK>
Date: Mon, 2 Sep 1996 13:59:14 +0100

Sue Gallagher wrote:

> One solution I've found that cuts down on the noise but provides
> the convenience of numbered sections is, if level 1 is the chapter
> number, to number level 2 (1.0, 1.1 ...) and level 3 (1.1.1, 1.1.2
> ...)
> but to omit the numbers from level 4 heads.

For documents in which section numbering is appropriate, I'd mostly
agree with Sue's approach, and especially with ending the numbering at
level 3.

As a general rule, if the information to be documented seems to need
heirarchical sections more than three levels deep, I'd look for a better
way of organizing and presenting it - because there usually is one.

> BTW, when I start numbering at 1.0, ....

What's the logic of starting numbering with zero? It can only confuse
some readers, whereas starting with 1 will never confuse anybody.
(Worse still, some writers insist on adding a ".0" to chapter numbers,
so that chapters look like sections and so on down. Someone told me this
is a US military requirement - is this true, or is there a rational

> ... the zero heading is always the introduction.

As I see it, an introduction that applies to a whole chapter is level 1
text. Giving it a section number would seem to confuse heirarchical
numbering with serial numbering. Within each section there could be
another more specific introduction if needed (level 2 text, immediately
below the heading) or the section could plunge straight into sub-section
1 without introduction.

In general, it's much harder to write documentation whose structure is
completely self-explanatory without some help from a multi-level
numbering scheme. If the page layout already includes a wide left
margin, progressive indenting alone is definitely not the answer.

When editing reports written by engineers and scientists I find that
formal section numbering imposes a discipline on the writer to organize
the material in a logical way, and it thus makes my job easier.

Maybe the answer is that any technical writing should be sufficiently
well-organized that it *could* accept a rigorous, formal numbering
system; but that readers don't always need it.

Ian White | IFW Technical Services, Abingdon, England
| Clear English for high-technology companies

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