From: Isaac Rabinovitch <isaacr -at- mailsnare -dot- net>
To: techwr-l
Date: Sun, 15 Feb 2004 17:19:59 -0800

dmbrown -at- brown-inc -dot- com wrote:

Isaac Rabinovitch wrote:

...suppose you're writing about Microsoft Word options. So you write about creating a backup copy. You write "From the 'Tools' menu, choose "Options". This brings up the options dialog box. Click on the 'Save' tab, and make sure that 'Always Create Backup Copy' is selected."

You're making your point by carrying a valid principle to an absurd extreme. I've never liked the sentences that say things like "This brings up the dialog box." (Sounds like something a cat does with ingested fur!) Try this instead:

1. From the Tools menu, choose Options.

2. On the Save tab, select Always Create Backup Copy.

Short, simple, and unambiguous. (Hey, if the app has two Tools menus, or the dialog box has two Save tabs, it's the UI that needs work, not your instructions.)

You're missing the point. You're right, lists are clearer than prose descriptions. But that's when you're giving a set of instructions *once*. If you're going to do it twenty times with minor variations, neither lists nor simple prose works.

...writing a bunch of specific little procedures that lead the user by the hand, without giving them any notion of what the pieces are and how they fit together...I much prefer to help users build the
conceptual framework they need to solve their own problems. More challenging me, and (for the kind of users I write for), more useful.

Sure, few would disagree with that...but it has nothing to do with the question, which was how to represent menus, commands, filenames, and other "special" words in that text, regardless of whether it's procedural or conceptual.

Which is the question raised by the person who started this thread. But that wasn't the person I was responding to.

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