Flow-charting question?

Subject: Flow-charting question?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 07 Jul 2005 12:41:57 -0400

Kevin wonders: <<Let's say you are documenting a procedure. A device will ask two, three or five questions, depending on how you answer some of the questions.>>

If I'm understanding this correctly, you means your audience has only three possibilities: one in which they respond to two questions, one in which they respond to three questions, and one in which they respond to five questions. So far, so good?

<<You want to flow-chart each path through the question set. You are trying to fit this onto WebHelp pages, so you don't want an individual flow-chart to show all possible combinations and permutations.>>

I assume this is because the single flowchart would be too large to fit legibly on a single page, right? That being the case, and assuming that there really are only three paths (as hypothesized above), it occurs to me that a three-column table might work just fine: one column per path. This presents all the information side by side (to support your question--below--about showing the road not travelled).

I can also imagine a situation in which you provided all possible answers immediately after each question, and clicking the correct answer would take you to a new page that starts with the context that has already been established (i.e., how you have responded thus far) and continues with the next step or question. You'd probably want to add a hardwired link back to the prevous decision point in case someone clicks the wrong answer and wants to back up and try again. That design would turn this into something like a wizard rather than just a complex flowchart.

<<You just want to chart one path, meaning that you want to force the answer to each question and ignore the other answer(s). Then, another page will chart a different path through the same few questions, and so on.>>

See above.

<<Would you just use normal question diamonds with a path continuing from the desired answer on one side and a dead-end bubble on the other side saying "Not Used" or similar?>>

Why make the user read "not used" if it's not used? That just confuses the issue. Show only the relevant information--here, the remaining steps or decision points after completing the previous step or decision.

<<What if, for some operations, certain "usual" prompts would not occur, and you want to give the user some indication that those prompts would occur down the path they aren't taking just now?>>

If the person has chosen the correct path thus far, there's no good reason to show them prompts that they will never see or choose. If the goal is to communicate that other paths are possible, this should be explained in the context that you present _before_ the reader reaches any of the decision points: "There are three possible pathways through this information: A occurs when you..., B occurs..., and C occurs... For simplicity, we'll only present the steps that are relevant in whichever pathway you have chosen to follow."

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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