Numbering headings: any academic proof?

Subject: Numbering headings: any academic proof?
From: "Geoff Hart" <geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1999 09:26:13 -0400

Thomas Murrell clarified <<I feel that a study that produced
data on what circumstances, if any, favored numbered heads
and what circumstances did not would allow me, as writer,
better information on which to decide how to structure my
documents.>>

Ah, you just said the magic words: audience analysis! <g> As
the responses on this list have indicated, there are at least two
extremes* in the spectrum of responses to numbered
headings. In some fields (law, ISO standards, aircraft
maintenance, etc.) people have grown sufficiently familiar
with (or even indoctrinated in) numbering schemes that you'll
do them a disservice by avoiding numbers; conversely, in
other fields (e.g., most scientific journals, consumer
documentation), the numbers are unnecessary and would
either interfere with reader comprehension of the document
structure or provide no benefit. And of course there will be
situations that lie somewhere in between these two extremes.
You won't find any "objective" data that works better than
obtaining an understanding of which group ***your***
audience falls into.

* There may be more, since audience characteristics are
almost always multidimensional. But for the sake of
simplicity, let's assume it's a simple two-dimensional
spectrum: numbers or not.

<<I would like to think that if I were presented with objective
data objectively arrived at I would consider how my work
serves my audiences despite my prejudices.>>

The only way to do that is to find out what each audience
thinks. If you know that, you can use that to form a valid,
useful prejudice that will shape your future work.


--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
suspect
that it is only a pernicious, Pythagorean coincidence." George Miller, "The Magical Number Seven" (1956)




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