TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
What I'd like to know is if anyone out there feels the opposite way.
What advantages does section numbering have over doing away with the
numbers? Are there any cases where more standard heading conventions
simply don't work? (I expect the MILSPEC folks will have a lot to say
about this...) Can you justify the numbering approach given that many
LARGE reference manuals, such as the Interleaf docs I used many years
ago, didn't use this system?
Well, Geoff, count me in as one of the minority who prefers to have the
numbering. I think it's easier to find 14.7.6 on a page (particularly if
it's hanging in the margin) than "Results: Test subject number 7: Test
parameter number 6". First of all, I only have to scan the numbers in the
margin, not the actual text on the page. As well, the heading numbering
lets me know the level of the heading (subordination). This is not always
obvious from the heading typeface.
I've been working on almost nothing but specifications for the last year or
so, so maybe I have it as a habit. I think section numbering provides both
a linear *and* a heirarchical sequence to the document, particularly when
subjects are nested. When I write "The Analysis function accesses the Load
Flow Analysis module - see section 22.3", I think it's much clearer to point
readers to this kind of reference, rather than expecting them to intuitively
know that I have a section *somewhere* in this non-alphabetically-arranged
document that deals with it. I'd rather refer to section 22.3 here, than to
send them scanning the table of contents not knowing under which other
subsections it might be buried.
In addition, since specs in particular usually need revisions, responses
(non/compliance), etc. it's much easier to keep a record of revisions that
lets you know exactly which areas of a document were modified. Numbering is
a very efficient short-hand for these types of documents. Where I work,
specs are numbered as far down as they go, (no section indentation), but may
well have multi-level line numbering *under* the section headings (this is a
real headache). But, when you've got complex systems that require a
traceability matrix or a function-by-function compliance table, that's the
way it goes. :-(
I have much more relaxed views on user documentation (manuals, guides,
etc.), though. I still like the numbering, but I wouldn't put up a big
fight about it. Where I work, user documentation gets numbered at levels 1
and 2, and no deeper (this keeps me happy enough). We only go to level 4
anyways (no section indentation).