RE: Document layout: Whose decision?

Subject: RE: Document layout: Whose decision?
From: "Michele Marques" <marquesm -at- autros -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 15 Feb 2001 10:17:04 -0500

Sunshine QT asks:
> To what extent is it your decision as the tech
> writer/tech writing department how to lay out manuals,
> and to what extent is it the programmers' decision?

Although the tech writer/department, hopefully, has a better general idea of
how to lay out manuals, there can be cases where a programmer or other
non-writer should have input.

(1) Who knows the intended audience better? For example, if you are writing
API docs (i.e., for other programmers), perhaps the programmer has a better
idea as to what the audience will expect and can give you feedback on what
works for him (as a representative programmer).

(2) Sometimes the tech writer/department comes up with a general standard
that is not appropriate for all documents. For example, Sunshine mentioned
the programmer objected to Sideheads. If the document in question has long
headers, and the headers are limited to the sidehead area (instead of
running across the sidehead and column of body text), it can be harder to
read and waste lots of space. Or perhaps the document has lots of
information that would best fit across the entire width of the page (e.g.
complex graphics that are difficult to read when shrunk to fit the column of
text, tables that would benefit from wider columns, long equations, etc.).
You might find a compromise that works - for example, instead of large
sideheads, having slightly outdented headings (stick out from the left edge
but allow enough horizontal space for the required information).

(3) I am not accusing Sunshine of this, but sometimes a tech writer learns
(or invents) a new design technique and decides that this is THE answer to
document design and tries to apply it everywhere, and not necessarily in the
most appropriate manner. In this case, anyone not afraid of offending said
writer might question this approach.

Michele Marques
Technical Writer,
Autros Healthcare Solutions
marquesm -at- autros -dot- com

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