TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Subject:Re: How many steps? From:"Less is more." <yvonne -at- VENUS -dot- SMARTSTAR -dot- COM> Date:Mon, 13 Jun 1994 10:38:20 -0700
Barb says in response to suggestion of 7 +/- 2 steps:
>I'm not sure if cognition is important in steps - I'm not asking them to
>remember, I'm asking them to follow the steps. Yes, they will have to know
>these steps eventually (actually, this project could use a training guide and
>an "I've learned the basics" guide, but that's not in the quote), but it's
>more important that they become familiar with the program at this stage.
>Opinions? (as if I need to ask for them :^)
I agree that the 7 +/- 2 rule may be misapplied in this case. I believe the
research gave this often-used number as the number of items people can remember.
Depending on your tutorial, you may or may not need people to REMEMBER the
steps. In my case, I just want them to DO something to see how it works.
I want them to get the concept and feel free to experiment from there -- not
feel that they are locked into a sequence I've imposed on them.
In this case, the limit on the number of steps should be based more on the
user's attention span. I'm not sure what number of steps exceeds a normal
attention span. I know that if the numbers in a set of steps I am performing
gets past 19 or so, I start to ask "When is this $%^&# procedure going to
end?" -- unless I am having fun learning. It isn't really the number of steps
I've performed. It's just that seeing the large numbers makes me realize how
many I've performed. Maybe 20 is a psychological attention span barrier for me.
It's probably different for others.
Breaking things up into subtasks keeps the step numbers low and may keep the
frustration level low, too.
A related issue is the flowcharts or summaries often placed before a procedure.
There was a session called "What Have We Learned From Usability Testing?" at
the recent STC Annual Conference (led by JoAnn Hackos). In this session and
in the paper in the proceedings, JoAnn points out that users can confuse these
"advance organizers" with actual steps and attempt to perform them even though
the information is not complete. It's important to make steps look like steps
and summaries or previews look like "non-steps".
yvonne -at- smartstar -dot- com
Santa Barbara, CA