Re: Use of Optional in instructions

Subject: Re: Use of Optional in instructions
From: Robert Lauriston <robert -at- lauriston -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Fri, 11 Sep 2009 12:30:41 -0700

The title of and introductory text (if any) for a procedure tells you
what it will accomplish.

Each step in the procedure is then typically a simple "do
this"--unless the step is optional.

If you follow the "do this" with "optionally," some users will do
first and then have to undo after they realize they didn't want that

On Fri, Sep 11, 2009 at 12:23 PM, Boudreaux, Madelyn (GE Healthcare,
consultant) <MadelynBoudreaux -at- ge -dot- com> wrote:
> 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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Please move off-topic discussions to the Chat list, at:

Use of Optional in instructions: From: Bruce Megan (ST-CO/ENG2.2)
RE: Use of Optional in instructions: From: Combs, Richard
RE: Use of Optional in instructions: From: Boudreaux, Madelyn (GE Healthcare, consultant)

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