Re: In defense of 7 +/-2 steps per procedure

Subject: Re: In defense of 7 +/-2 steps per procedure
From: Tom Murrell <trmurrell -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 22 Oct 2000 13:46:12 -0700 (PDT)

--- SteveFJong -at- aol -dot- com wrote:
> The psychological principle of closure definitely comes into play in
> completing procedures. Tension rises with each step; a fifty-step
> procedure is going to be more difficult to complete without error
than a
> five-step procedure for this reason alone. I would argue (and would
> disagree?) that a fifty-step procedure is on the face of it a lousy
UI design.

I wouldn't disagree, though I think you could broaden it to include ANY
design, not just that of a User Interface.

But herein lies where I think TWs get into trouble with the 7+/-2
"rule". I take the position that if I can get the design changed to
something more user-friendly or even user-manageable, then I've done a
truly good thing. But if I can't get the design changed, I take it as
my job to document what IS, not what I want it to be. I suspect you
would agree that a writer should not artificially lump steps in a
procedure just to make this so-called rule. Rather the enforcement of
this standard should be part of the design of the interface between the
user and that which is being used.

> In fact, adhering to a seven-step rule gives you an opportunity to
> argue against long procedures simply because there are more than
> steps (or, in structured documentation methodology, you can't fit it
on the
> page!).

Again, I'll argue (once per project) for changes that will make
procedures more user-friendly, but if I don't get changes in the
design, I'll document what IS, and if they don't want to change the
design, I as a TW can't 'save' it with documentation.
> I suggest an experimental approaches to this: Rather than debate
> whether the principle applies or not, try it out! Test users on
procedures of
> varying lengths, and note whether they make more errors on longer
> procedures and where the problems start. This is the same technique
> used, and a tech comm student well grounded in experimental method
> could do this quickly enough. I predict that user errors will grow
quickly past
> ten steps.

Experiments are fine provided you have the appropriate resources to
make the experiments meaningful. Most of us don't have those resources.
Our company does extensive testing of it's software, BUT WE DO NO USER
TESTING! Does that make sense? Heck, no! Is it life in the big city?

I would suggest that it is neither easy nor cheap to set up a
scientifically valid experiment. I don't disagree with your conclusion,
only with the implication that it is Technical Communications that
should solve it. We need to focus on reporting accurately and
completely to the user what the user needs to know. I consider myself
an excellent writer (and an excellent lack of arrogance here),
but even *I* can't save a bad design, other than by calling on the
design and implementation people to re-think their work.

Tom Murrell
Lead Technical Writer
Alliance Data Systems
Columbus, Ohio
mailto:trmurrell -at- yahoo -dot- com
Personal Web Page -

Do You Yahoo!?
Yahoo! Messenger - Talk while you surf! It's FREE.

Learn how to develop HTML-based Help with Macromedia Dreamweaver!
Dec. 7-8, 2000, Orlando, FL -- $100 discount for STC members. or 800-646-9989.

Your web site localized into 32 languages? Maybe not now, but sooner than
you think. Download ForeignExchange's FREE paper, "3 steps to successful
translation management" at

You are currently subscribed to techwr-l as: archive -at- raycomm -dot- com
To unsubscribe send a blank email to leave-techwr-l-obscured -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Send administrative questions to ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.

Previous by Author: Re: In reference to number of steps
Next by Author: Re: Re:_Top_Ten_Myths_of_Technical_Communication
Previous by Thread: In defense of 7 +/-2 steps per procedure
Next by Thread: Employers - was Re: Writing / Drug Tests

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads