Re: Procedural syntax: "Click to expand" vs. "Expand by clicking"

Subject: Re: Procedural syntax: "Click to expand" vs. "Expand by clicking"
From: Michelle Corbin <corbinm -at- us -dot- ibm -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 20 Jan 2006 08:53:31 -0500

> just wondering, which do you prefer (and why):
> [A] Click the plus sign to expand the folder.
> OR
> [B] Expand the folder by clicking the plus sign.
> Any references to style guides, maybe? I checked the Microsoft Style
> Guide for Technical Pubs (Procedural syntax) but did not really find an
> answer there.

I think A is more active and a better imperative statement for the user to
immediately be able to follow.

Developing Quality Technical Information (by Hargis, et al) has a section
on task orientation, and two of its guidelines seem to apply: (1) Start
with an imperative verb (both do, but [a] gives the actual action the user
takes in order to accomplish the task of expanding the folder, and (2)
Conditional steps being with the condition.

You might argue that "clicking the plus sign" is not a "condition," but it
is the key information about how to expand the folder, which is their
ultimate goal of this task step.

Although, there are some that might say to truly follow these guidelines,
they'd rewrite [A] to be:

"To expand the folder, click the plus sign."

This puts the goal or user task right up front -- what they are trying to
accomplish -- and then the actual step to achieve that goal comes after
that conditional/goal statement to begin.

Ah, the nuances of task step phrasing. :)

Michelle Corbin | Senior Technical Editor & Information Architect | IBM
Software Group, Tivoli Software | 919-224-1477 (tl 687-1477)


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Procedural syntax: "Click to expand" vs. "Expand by clicking": From: Yves Barbion

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