Re: Task-based vs. System-Based Procedures

Subject: Re: Task-based vs. System-Based Procedures
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <susan-gallagher -at- vertel -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 05 Jan 2000 16:07:40 -0800

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

In general, what we commonly refer to as task-based procedures
assume the user's perspective while system-based procedures
assume the developers' or software interface perspective.

For example, in most email packages, it is possible to send
a mail message to multiple recipients using a single address
book entry. If the user approaches the software documentation
with that thought in mind and actually finds a topic that is
entitled "sending a mail message to multiple recipients", then
the documentation is task-based or user-centric, because it looks
at the task that the user wants to perform. That user-centric
task touches on several areas of the email software:
* creating an address book entry for a group of email addresses
* creating a mail message
* entering the address book entry in the recipient field

Contrast this with documentation that is system-based or
interface-centric. Topics will include "address book
entries" and "mail messages", but the user must make the
cognitive leap between the elements of the interface that are
included in the documentation -- the software menu labels --
and the task at hand, which is sending email to multiple recipients.

Frequently, technical writers make an attempt at task-based docs
but lack the domain knowledge or the necessary writing skills.
What you get is pseudo-task-oriented docs -- docs that use gerunds
prominently in section headings to make interface-centric topics
sound task based. "Creating an address book entry" may *sound*
task based, but it really isn't, because the user's task is to
send mail messages or save an address for later use, not to maintain
an email address book.


-Sue Gallagher
susan-gallagher -at- vertel -dot- com

The _Guide_ is definitive.
Reality is frequently inaccurate. --Douglas Adams

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