Online Technical Writing: Cross-Referencing
Technical reports and instructions often require cross-references—those pointers to other places in the same document or to other information sources where related information can be found.
Cross-references can help readers in a number of different ways. It can point them toward more basic information if, for example, they have entered into a report over their heads. It can point them to more advanced information if, for example, they already know the stuff you're trying to tell them. Also, it can point them to related information.
Related information is the hardest area to explain because ultimately everything is related to everything else—there could be no end to the cross-references. But here's an example from DOS—that troll that lurks inside PC-type computers and supposedly helps you. There are several ways you can copy files: the COPY command, the DISKCOPY command, and XCOPY command. Each method offers different advantages. If you were writing about the COPY command, you'd want cross-references to these other two so that readers could do a bit of shopping around.
Of course, the preceding discussion assumed cross-references within the same document. If there is just too much background to cover in your report, you can cross-reference some external book or article that does provide that background. That way, you are off the hook for having to explain all that stuff!
Now, a decent cross-reference consists of several elements:
These guidelines are shown in the illustration. Notice in that illustration how different the rules are when the cross-reference is "internal" (that is, to some other part of the same document) compared to when it is "external" (when it is to information outside of the current document).
Examples of cross-references. Internal cross-references are cross-references to other areas within your same document; external ones are those to books and documents external to your document.
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