Some Dos and donts of Field Guide Production
Establish by interaction and consultation what will work with your given audience, but there are some absolute guidelines which apply to msot field guides
- Illustrate, illustrate, illustrate
- Be careful with scale. Many users get confused when pictures are not life-sized, and a centimetre scale bar might not help.
- Take care with amount of information
- Obtain good budget estimates for colour vs. Black and White printing as a prelude to discussing formats with your users groups. Make sure the binding will hold the unusually heavy pressures that field guides are often put through Make extra efforts, beyond simple asking, to be realistic about where the guide will end up being used mostly: don’t listen too closely to fond aspirations (‘in the field, next to the trees of course’) if users are likely end up keeping their treasured new field guide safe and clean in a bag under their camp bed. Do realise that virtually all (field guide) projects take two or three times as long and cost two or three times as much as the best estimate of how long they should take!
Where illustrations are inappropriate, limit use of jargon. Balance the conciseness of jargon against the fact that many users report having been put off by guides with words they do not initially understand. Think more in terms of describing with common adjectives.
Jargon words are more useful for use in keys (where conciseness is at a premium), but wait until you have narrowed down the list of remaining species to just a few. Characteristics that are more ‘clinical’ in terms of separating large groups of species include leaf types and arrangements, a few of the venation types, especially those applying to secondary venatiom; domatia; larger and more prominent glands; coloured or translucent spots; and bark exudate.
Whatever terms you use, define them as precisely as you need before you start and stick to these definitions.
Don’t use jargon unnecessarily
Too much information is generally better than too little if accuracy is important, whereas the latter is true if superficial appeal and a simple clean layout is favoured, but both can have equally detrimental effects on accuracy, user-appeal and usability.
Also, make appropriate decisions based on the the Shallow/Deep dichotomy