Re: List of Tables and List of Figures

Subject: Re: List of Tables and List of Figures
From: Robert Plamondon <robert -at- PLAMONDON -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 23 May 1995 17:06:20 PDT

>We are drafting new documentation standards for use within the technical
>writing group. One individual feels strongly that List of Tables and List of
>Figures as items included within the front matter of a document are passe'.
>As she put it "its too technical looking".

Who is the audience? If you're writing for an audience of technophobes,
perhaps having three tables of contents (sections, tables, figures) looks
forbidding. On the other hand, members of a technical audience are so
used to seeing the things that they will barely notice them, one way or

>Does anyone know of any studies or have other opinions on using these lists?
>Also, are Figure 1-1 and Table 1-1 usage also passe?

You should put in lists of tables and figures if they're going to be useful
to the readers. You should leave them out if they're useless to them.

Personally, I prefer a good index, but few companies have the commitment
to produce consistently good indexes. As a result, users don't expect
them, and often look at them as a last resort. As a rule, the table
of contents, et al, are complete, and the index may be laughable even if
present -- not even containing the entire table of contents.

Thus, you can make a pretty good case that users are likely to refer
to lists of tables and figures. Unless the document is either (a)
very short, or (b) so content-free that it will never
be referred to, I would put either a comprehensive index or the list of

I dislike numbering pages by sections, and I dislike separating table
numbering from figure numbering. If I'm referred to page 302, I can
flip to it very quickly. When referred to section 15-22, I can't just
buzz through to the right spot, because I get tripped up by the long
and short sections. Give me linearity anytime. Similarly, both figures
and tables are typically boxed, with some figures containing tabular
matter and some tables containing graphics elements. I've been tripped
up many times by a reference to "Figure 3-5," and, landing on "Table
3-5," being very confused. Numbering figures and tables with a single
number stream, and calling them all "figures," eliminates this confusion.
(Even very stupid readers seem to have no trouble with references to
tables as "figures.")

>IMHO the use of list of tables and figures add information for the user should
>they need to look these up. However, without adequate ammunition this is just
>an opinion and not defensable.

You've given facts, not opinions. The lists contain information. You
put them there so the users can refer to them. The only question is,
whether they are worth their cost. Depending on the type of manual,
information may be frequently given in captions that isn't even hinted
at in section headings.

-- Robert

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