Documenting a touch-screen interface

Subject: Documenting a touch-screen interface
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 13 Mar 2001 14:33:59 -0500

John Balchunas is revising <<... operator manuals for a product which has a
touch-screen interface. The original author of the manual inserted
Microsoft Drawing Objects into the text when referring to a touch screen
button [basically shaded text boxes around the touchable icons] ... this
takes up a lot of wasted space (if you add up the extra space above required
for each button over the course of an entire manual it probably increases
the overall page count by 25-30%).>>

I'm a strong advocate of the "show users what something really looks like on
screen" approach, since that requires less mental effort than trying to
figure out "click the icon that looks like an octopus or maybe a squashed
bug". But that's a more important goal for icons than for interface objects
that are exclusively textual. After all, we rarely provide screenshots of a
menu when writing "Open the A menu and choose B" works just fine for most
situations. That being the case:

<<Any thoughts as to how to refer to/indicate touch-screen buttons. I have
considered something as simple as placing the button text in
bold/small-capped font with brackets around it. Something along the lines
of... "7. Touch [Probe Priming Menu]. The following window appears.">>

Works for me, though it may be a pain to have to constantly apply a
different format to all those buttons; if you can define this in a style,
you'd save tons of time. If you're at all worried that some users of the
software won't be able to correlate this semi-graphical representation with
the actual screens, then I'd suggest including a page or two at the
beginning that presents your [Button name] shorthand in some logical order
(e.g., alphabetical, hierarchical by task), followed by a screenshot of the
on-screen display to show what it really looks like.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

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