Section Numbering

Subject: Section Numbering
From: Ian White <ian -at- IFWTECH -dot- DEMON -dot- CO -dot- UK>
Date: Wed, 4 Sep 1996 09:23:25 +0100

Rebecca M. Phillips wrote:

>This illustrates the only problem I have with Section numbering. =
>Sections are a collection of chapters.

Unless there is an overriding company style, you can set the terminology
according to the length and content of the document.

For example, in a long report dealing with several different subjects
the highest-level divisions might be called "chapters", but "sections"
would be more appropriate name in a much shorter report.

>Sections are also numbered =
>sub-sets of chapters. When I have a cross-reference to a numbered =
>section, I don't want to use the word "section" because that refers to a =
>different kind of entity. I don't want to say "paragraph", because that =
>is not really correct either.=20

>Any suggestions? =20

Again, it depends on who the reader is, and what's best for that kind of
reader. Equally important is to define your terminology and stick to it
rigorously within that document.

Unless the cross-reference is to a whole "chapter", the term "section"
can be used at all levels. For example, "see Section 2" and "see Section
2.4.2" are equally clear. In highly technical reports, it's often enough
to say "(see 2.4.2)" but I'd never do that in a manual.

But then again... if sub-section 2.4.2 is ten pages long and the cross-
reference is only to a part of it, a page reference would be better.
Within an individual Word document, automatically updating page
references seem to work perfectly well.

As you may gather, I can often see value _to_the_reader_ in section
numbering. But I wouldn't agree with David (the numerate, but no idiot)
that:
>A users' manual is a technical document. To my mind section numbers are
>appropriate in technical writing.

That seems dangerously close to defining in advance "what's good for the
readers". My cardinal rule in tech writing is to think about the
reader's needs on every separate occasion.

As a point of principle, I derive the requirements for accuracy, clarity
and consistency in tech writing from the needs of the reader. That
reader-centred viewpoint clarifies a lot of questions about the "rules"
of tech writing.


Ian White | IFW Technical Services, Abingdon, England
| Clear English for high-technology companies
| http://www.ifwtech.demon.co.uk

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