Repeating figures?

Subject: Repeating figures?
From: "Geoff Hart" <Geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Thu, 23 Sep 1999 09:16:09 -0400

Lindsey Durway has <<...a figure showing a flow chart. The
figure first appears in the section where I discuss the overall
system illustrated by the flow chart. Ten pages later I want to
describe one part of the system. The catch is that I want to
reproduce the flow chart figure exactly as it was before...>>

Excellent idea. I don't know about you, but I hate trying to
hold a book open in the middle of a procedure and flipping
backwards to find the figure, then flipping back and forth to
integrate the two. That's one data point; what does your
audience say about this?

<<I know it's irregular to repeat a figure this way, but...>>

"Irregular", "nonstandard", and "unusual" are often clues that
you've stumbled onto something the rest of us have forgotten.
Just because something isn't standard practice doesn't mean
it's wrong. In fact, standard practice often leads to absurdities,
such as the need to flip back and forth to find a figure. Think
outside the box! If readers will refer to a figure several times,
it may even be worthwhile to turn the figure into a foldout
page at the back of the manual, so readers can fold out that
page and have the figure sitting beside the procedural text, no
matter where they are in the manual. (That can also work
poorly if the manual will be manhandled a lot; the foldout will
eventually get torn off. But would a laminated card stuck into
a pocket in the manual work as well? What else might work?
What's the work environment?)

<<Duplicating the figure number would be easy but odd: I'd
have a figure out of order. Giving the duped figure a new
number would suggest that it's different from the previous
instance, possibly disturbing readers who wonder why they're
unable to detect the difference.>>

Give it a unique number that fits into the correct spot in the
sequence. If you're producing documentation, the odds are
that nobody will ever notice that there are two copies of the
figure because they probably won't read the book
sequentially and encounter both figures in a single read
anyway. Even if they do, it's not likely a major problem. You
mentioned that on the second appearance of the figure, you're
only discussing part of the flowchart; if that's the case,
highlight that part of the flowchart! The unhighlighted part of
the figure preserves the context (shows where the highlighted
part fits in the overall schema), whereas the highlighting
draws attention to what you're currently discussing.

<<or am I just an incompetent slob who's going to too much
trouble to accommodate his readers?>>

I'd suggest that writers who don't go to some trouble to
accomodate their readers are the real incompetent slobs.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca (Pointe-Claire, Quebec)
"Perhaps there is something deep and profound behind all those sevens, something just calling out for us to discover it. But I
that it is only a pernicious, Pythagorean coincidence." George Miller, "The Magical Number Seven" (1956)

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