RE: Use of Optional in instructions

Subject: RE: Use of Optional in instructions
From: "Combs, Richard" <richard -dot- combs -at- Polycom -dot- com>
To: "Robert Lauriston" <robert -at- lauriston -dot- com>, "TECHWR-L Writing" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 16 Sep 2009 08:28:07 -0600

Robert Lauriston wrote:

> There's always at least a title, which may be sufficient to identify
> the task to be performed. For example, "Create a New Project File" or
> "Delete a File" might not need any further description.

You might have a point if all procedures consisted of a linear sequence
of steps that led to precisely one end result completely described by
the title or introduction.

But in my experience, that's often not the case. Even for a procedure
entitled "Create a New Project File," I suspect there might be some
options offered and decisions to be made. The question is, how do you
inform the reader of the options about which they must decide?

I contend that it's been pretty well accepted for many years that the
form

If you want A, do X.
If you want B, do Y.

imposes less cognitive load on the reader than

Do X if you want A.
Do Y if you want B.

In the former, the reader who doesn't want A can stop and skip ahead
upon learning the condition, without having to read the instruction
regarding what to do. In the latter, the reader must absorb the
instruction, refrain from acting on it immediately (hopefully), and then
discard it upon learning that it only applies to those who want A.

Sorry, I can't even understand why there's any argument about this.

Richard


Richard G. Combs
Senior Technical Writer
Polycom, Inc.
richardDOTcombs AT polycomDOTcom
303-223-5111
------
rgcombs AT gmailDOTcom
303-777-0436
------








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References:
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)
Re: Use of Optional in instructions: From: Lauren
RE: Use of Optional in instructions: From: McLauchlan, Kevin
Re: Use of Optional in instructions: From: Robert Lauriston
Re: Use of Optional in instructions: From: Robert Lauriston

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