Re: How many steps?

Subject: Re: How many steps?
From: John Gough <john -at- ATRIUM -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 9 Jun 1994 16:34:05 CDT

[ Karen Steele writes: ]
> I'm writing a long, complex set of instructions & keep breaking them into
> smaller units.
> What rules do you follow?

We don't have a set of rules. I let a general principal of
cognition guide me: people can process/remember about
7 items at a time. Actually, I shorten it to 5, because
the rule is based on 7 plus or minus 2, and I don't want
to drop my readers off the low end of the bell curve. :-)

To break up necessarily long lists, I try to group steps.
Usually a small number of steps is related to some nameable
process. At the beginning of each level of nesting,
I summarize the the number of pieces *in the new level*,
to help them keep track of how far along they are. This is
an example from an installation guide for a complex installation
process. Details are elided in <>'s:

<Summary of Processes>
Extracting the Software from Tape
<4 steps>
Installing Files on Each Machine
<3 steps>
Configuring the Software
<Summary of Processes>
Configuring the Delivery Service
<Summary of Processes>
<5 steps>
<Summary of Processes>
configuring the server
<2 steps>
adding queues
<6 steps>
adding logical destinations
<4 steps>
Configuring the Notification Service

Also, if a set of steps is repeatable, I try to cite it that way.
For example: "Follow these steps for *each* machine in your network:"
Then I show the steps for just one machine, perhaps listing the
effects for others in a sample network.

Point of whimsy: some software structures are built this way, encoding
information about what's in the structure in a header of the
structure, with allowances for substructuring recursively. Anyone
know if genomes follow this pattern? Might be too early to tell.

Hope this helps.
John Gough john -at- atrium -dot- com
Principal Technical Writer voice (512) 328-6977
Atrium Technologies fax (512) 328-2789
Austin, TX

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