RE: Use of Optional in instructions

Subject: RE: Use of Optional in instructions
From: "Boudreaux, Madelyn (GE Healthcare, consultant)" <MadelynBoudreaux -at- ge -dot- com>
To: "Combs, Richard" <richard -dot- combs -at- Polycom -dot- com>, <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 11 Sep 2009 15:23:57 -0400

Richard Combs wrote:

>RIGHT: "To accomplish X, do A."
>WRONG: "Do A to accomplish X."

Interesting. I've always preferred the other route, on the grounds that
Richard's method buries the lede. The procedure is what you do, and any
explanation, editorializing, or notation is secondary. A user who is
just following orders reads the DO THIS step, and skims the explanation
that follows; a more curious user reads it all. Users are like ornery
horses: you can lead them to understanding, but you can't make them
partake.

I prefer:
* Turn off the water at the source to prevent further flooding.
* Remove hand from hot stove to minimize burns.
* Press OK to continue.

All of these are more immediate than:
* To prevent further flooding, turn off the water at the source.
* To minimize burning, remove hand from hot stove.
* To continue, press OK.

Plus, there's that extra character in the second versions. Any time I
can eliminate punctuation without in any way affecting the
understandability of the writing, I take it. Just one teeny step toward
simplification, fewer moving parts, and easier translation.

Can you give me insight on why you do it your way, or, if you prefer,
why my reasoning is wrong?

Oh, and to return to the original question, how about:
I like using a repeated, semi-visual cue, like adding [Optional] at the
beginning of those steps, because it adds to scanability -- the user can
quickly pick out the required and optional steps, without wasting much
thought.

- Madelyn
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Follow-Ups:

References:
Use of Optional in instructions: From: Bruce Megan (ST-CO/ENG2.2)
RE: Use of Optional in instructions: From: Combs, Richard

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