Task- vs. system-based procedures?

Subject: Task- vs. system-based procedures?
From: "Geoff Hart" <geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Mon, 3 Jan 2000 16:06:45 -0500

Bill Hartzer wondered <<In regards to computer software, what is
the difference between task-based procedures and system-based
procedures?>>

That depends on how you define "system". In general, task-based
procedures are centered on the relatively low-level types of jobs
users will attempt to accomplish using the software; a typical
example might be a section in the user manual entitled "How do I
print my novel?". Its opposite, which represents one form of
"system" documentation, involves documenting things the way
they appear in the software, with no reference to how users
actually use the software; a typical example might be a section
entitled "The contents of the File menu". See the difference? This
example just lists items, without trying to place them in the user's
context. (Please note, if the user's context is "looking up the
meaning of menu commands" or "figuring out what the command
line switches are for DOS commands", the system approach might
be far more appropriate than a task-based approach. Different
users, different solutions!)

Another form of "system documentation might be an overview of
how software functions (i.e., each function of the software is viewed
as part of a larger system). A typical example might be a section
entitled "Overview", which begins "Publishit <g> is designed to
follow the most efficient desktop publishing workflow ever
conceived. To meet this goal, the software forces you to import full-
edited word processor files, format the files (do a layout), check the
results to be sure they conforms with industry-standard
aesthetics, and print the results on your laser printer." (The section
would then continue with descriptions of each of these steps, why
you would do each step, how to move from one step to the next,
and how the steps interrelate.) The difference is that you're now
explaining a much broader series of higher-level tasks so that
users get a feel for what they can do with their software, how to do
it, and why they should do it that way. Once they understand what
they're supposed to do with the software, they would then consult
the task-based information to see how to do it.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca (Pointe-Claire, Quebec)
"If you can't explain it to an 8-year-old, you don't understand it"--Albert Einstein




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