RE: Procedures - Must we use numbered steps?

Subject: RE: Procedures - Must we use numbered steps?
From: mlist -at- safenet-inc -dot- com
To: janice -dot- gelb -at- sun -dot- com, techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Fri, 21 Apr 2006 09:46:49 -0400

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Janice Gelb [mailto:janice -dot- gelb -at- sun -dot- com]
> > So I ask, have you ever considered writing procedures
> > without numbers?
> >
> Geoff already beat me to the point that readers often
> use step numbers as a referent point when they move
> back to a page after looking away. One point I don't
> think anyone has raised, though, is that cookbooks
> rarely if ever have a mixture of lists that must be
> done in a sequence and lists where the order of the
> items doesn't matter, whereas in technical writing
> we do have both. I think that making a visual
> distinction to indicate to the reader that the actions
> in a procedure must be done in a specific order is
> another argument for using numbered steps.

Sorry to jump in late - I've been away.

I try to have every section or directive Help page
contain a bulleted summary of "what you are about to do",
some explanation and centering (this is why you are here)
if required, and then a sequence of numbered steps.

The numbering is mostly for consistency, to indicate
"this is something that you need to actually perform,
now, not just think about".

The steps are placed in the best workable order I can
readily devise, and numbered accordingly. In many
sequences, only _some_ of the actions are required
to be performed in the specified order.
For example, some of our products are networked
appliances that require update, but are also
associated with client computers that must be updated
as well. It doesn't really matter whether the computer
gets updated before or after the appliance, but I pick
one sequence and say "do this"... and number the whole

Customers seem to appreciate having a step-by-step
sequence with numbers as sign-posts, and mostly prefer
not to be given more choices than strictly necessary.
When/if something goes wrong, it's also very handy
for the customer and the tech-support person to be
able to discuss things with reference to numbered
steps. "You did WHAT?!??" :-)

As well, others have mentioned the need to navigate
between widely separated portions of the documentation
and refer to specific items or instructions - numbered
steps make that easy.


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