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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
<<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
<<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
<<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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