Procedures - Must we use numbered steps?

Subject: Procedures - Must we use numbered steps?
From: Steven Brown <stevenabrown -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Tue, 18 Apr 2006 06:39:09 -0700 (PDT)

Hello all,

We spend a great deal of time formatting numbered
procedures and the numbered substeps that are often
embedded within them. (How many times have we
struggled with Word's autonumbering?) It's become an
accepted practice that when you write a procedure, you
use numbers to show the sequence of steps.

But I wonder, is it really necessary to use numbered
steps at all? Gordon Meyer's Usable Help blog
recently discussed what techncial writers might learn
from recipe writers. While he doesn't raise the issue
of numbered steps, it struck me that recipes rarely
use numbered steps at all, yet somehow cookbook
readers are able to follow a fairly complex sequence
of tasks.

So I ask, have you ever considered writing procedures
without numbers?

(And please, please. I'm not suggesting that numbered
procedures should be struck from all technical
documentation, so please don't raise the typical Space
Shuttle and nuclear reactor examples to prove a point.
I'm merely wondering if numbered steps must be used in
all situations.)

Steven Brown

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