Monday, January 26, 2009

On Page Numbers

The Context
In technical writing and technical editing we talk a lot about making a text easy for readers to use. In Johnson-Sheehan’s Technical Communication Today (2/e), he suggests that readers “raid” a text for information. I pretty much buy that metaphor when it comes to technical documents, and students and I spend a lot of time discussing strategies for enabling readers to use text easily and quickly. Just a few topics we discuss include: how to use graphics, diagrams, headings, and idea arrangement (e.g., how to create a hierarchy of information with most needed items first). However, lately, I have also been discussing page numbers.
My Beef
Lots of places are trying to do documentation on the cheap by creating PDF documents that users can download from the web. As a user, I find those documents handy and sometimes print them off. However, the last few documents I have printed have been long and got messed up at the shared printer. Imagine my chagrin when I discovered the documents did not have page numbers! Yes, I could have added them before printing, but shouldn’t they be there already? Aren’t page numbers a good way to make a document more usable? Do we too often take something like page numbers for granted?
Rant On
What do you think? Do page numbers even matter? Or do you have a different more annoying pet peeve related to writing to rant on about?

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