Last week I offered my opinion on the proper use of bold and italics in e-Learning. I wanted to know your opinion. John Laflin, PhD, Professor of English at Dakota State University, Madison, South Dakota was kind enough to offer the following:
I teach courses in software documentation. In each student project I insist that a list of manual conventions be included. (It’s absolutely incredible how many software, hardware, and peripherals manuals do not list any conventions.)
Students are fond of placing any user-generated text in “quotation marks” – e.g. Now type “the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” I always counsel against this practice as the user should not actually type the quotation marks, and the writer has to tell and remind the user not to do so. The period at the end of the sentence is another concern, but I can get to that later.
So I advise either bold faced type or a color or even a different typeface, such as “Courier” for those bits of text that a user should type. These font changes are not under the user’s control, so there would be little if any confusion about what to type. Line breaks are also useful here, as a writer can minimize confusion by placing a Line Break (and not a paragraph break) before the “and” in the following example:
“Now type: the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog and Press [ENTER].” Some users will be bound to keep typing unless the line ends after the word “dog.”
I certainly have no problem with using bold to indicate menus or whatever; however I would also suggest that the convention help make the writer more efficient. If the writer has said in a conventions page that “words in bold-faced type indicate the names of menus,” the writer does not need to say “Click the File menu.” Instead the writer only needs to say “Click File” as the bold type actually substitutes for the words “the” and “menu.”
Now as for those pesky periods: I allow my students to omit periods that would normally be required when they fall at the ends of sentences that a user needs to type. As with the example above, the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog
This sentence would normally require a period at the end; however putting a period at the end will confuse readers and it’s very hard to see whether or not a period is bold. And of course in the old days of typesetting there was no such thing as a “bold period.” Although the period in the example above is not critical, think about a web address, where a stray period could create a “404 Not Found” error.
Thanks for the opportunity to share.
Great stuff, John, as usual. And thank you.