Order in diagram callouts?

Subject: Order in diagram callouts?
From: Geoff Hart <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2000 12:48:44 -0500

Christi Carew has <<... a diagram that shows how to connect our instrument
to a panel at the customer's site. There are six connections in various
places; they happen to fall in two columns of three connections. I'm trying
to determine the best way to order the reference letters [in a diagram of
the panel].>>

Unless I'm misunderstanding you, it seems to me that neither of your
suggestions is the best way to proceed. If the panel itself has labels on
the connection points, then you should use the same labels that appear on
the panel in your diagram. There are no obvious cons to this approach, and
one huge pro: the diagram directly matches what the user will see when they
perform the task. If the panel (for whatever reason) uses no labels, then
you should consider using numbers rather than letters because numbers show a
sequence of steps better than letters do. It's not that a sequence composed
of letters is particularly hard to comprehend, but rather that the
relationship between "1" and "first" is more direct than between A and
first: there's no easy equivalent to "first" in letters ("the A'th step"
works in math, but not so well for nonmathematicians). Looking at this a
little more abstrusely, using numbers in a sequence avoids mixing two modes
of symbol processing (numeric and alphabetic).

<<Example 2 - ordering the reference letters in order that the user will
have to make the connections.>>

If neither of my suggestions makes sense to you (e.g., because I
misunderstood the question), then this is always the preferred way to go:
match the documentation to how the user will use it, not to some arbitrary
sequence. The more closely the sequence matches what the reader will
actually do, the easier the task will be to perform. To see this clearly,
compare the following two sequences and ask yourself in which one the
sequence is most obvious:
A, B, C, D, E, F vs. A, D, F, E, B, C
It's easy enough to move from A to D when the instructions are before you,
but set this message aside and come back in an hour: can you still remember
(flawlessly!) the second sequence? Not likely. And that neatly illustrates
the difference in the mental effort required to understand the two

--Geoff Hart, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"The paperless office will arrive when the paperless toilet
arrives."--Matthew Stevens


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