Re: Tech writers and cookbooks

Subject: Re: Tech writers and cookbooks
From: "Chuck Martin" <twriter -at- sonic -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 30 Jan 2001 12:27:27 -0800

"Steve Shepard" <STEVES -at- YARDI -dot- com> wrote in message news:89225 -at- techwr-l -dot- -dot- -dot-
> I'm a tech writer and I cook a lot. You would think a recipe in a cookbook
> and writing, say, software documentation would have some similarities.
> just as there is a fair amount of bad technical writing, cookbook recipes
> seem to be even worse.

> For example, beginning with a list of ingredients is great, but often they
> aren't in any order that makes sense. And if the prep and cooking
> instructions are numbered, they usually include several steps, not one at
> time. When the instructions are in prose, I find I often have to read the
> paragraph two or three times to figure out what I am actually supposed to
> do. And when I am told "do this, but not that" I am never told "why"
> it in a plastic or ceramic bowl, not glass).
> From the point of view of a tech writer, what would be a better way to
> present this kind of information.
> I am looking for ideas as I document (surprise) my recipes and I don't
> to fall into the same trap.

Like with any documentation, you need to focus on your user's goals. In this
case, it seems that the user is you.

Your ultimate goal is, of course, to finish the project (dish), and (as a
sub-goal) to do so with a minimum abount of effort to decipher the
information you need to reach that goal. You've identified several prtoblems
you;ve seen with a number of information designs, and it seems to me that
your solution is to resolve those problems:

- Present a list of ingredients in the order that they will be used.
- Describe one task per step.
- Add conceptual information to each step.

Illustrations can often help too.

When you focus on the user's goals, and not the tasks that the user will be
doing to get to the goal, the tasks themselves usually become much clearer.

"[Programmers] cannot successfully be asked to design for users
because...inevitably, they will make judgments based on the
difficulty of coding and not on the user's real needs."
- Alan Cooper
"About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design"

Chuck Martin
twriter "at" sonic "dot" net

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