Re: Error Message Formats

Subject: Re: Error Message Formats
From: "Doug, Data Librarian at Ext 4225" <engstromdd -at- PHIBRED -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 6 Apr 1995 07:32:13 -0500

Tamara Peters writes:

I am starting a new troubleshooting section for an existing manual, and I am
seeking advice on how to format these things. I can divide most of the
information into "Message/Possible Problem/Solution," but I am open to other
ideas on how to organize this information. Can anyone share any comments or
examples of formats (tables, lists, etc.) that worked well?

The most successful troubleshooting sections in my experience where the
"fault tables" in Minuteman III (ICBM) documentation. Essentially, a fault
table is a series of cells. Within each cell is the entering argument (a
problem or an action taken to solve a problem) and a series of outcomes or
suggested actions. The outcomes or actions may become entering arguments
to other cells, creating a "branch" structure that ends in either a
solution or the catch-all "Call Job Control" (which means you can't solve
it from the capsule and need help from maintenance).

To give an over-simplified example: Say the problem is "printer does not
print." That becomes the entering argument for a cell, which may suggest:
"Check power light; ref 3-3" In cell 3-3 (the "Check Power Light" cell) we
may find: "If light is off, turn power switch on; ref 3-4." In cell 3-4 we
may find: "Power light comes on, but printer will not print; ref 3-5." In
cell 3-5, (The "Power on, printer won't print" cell") we find, among other
suggestions, "Check printer cable connection." And so on. It's early in
the morning, I haven't seen one of these since 1985, so this may not be a
stellar explanation of the concept, but it's the best I can do at the

Anyway, it's main advantage is that it allows you to handle a wide variety
of problems in a structured way, and you only have to write stuff once
(several branches may use the "Power on, printer won't print" cell, for
example). It would be great implemented in a hypertext environment like
WinHelp. The main disadvantages are that it's hell to maintain, since
it's constantly impacted by system changes, and if a user gets off track
(makes a bad choice among suggested next steps in one of the cells) it's
tough for them to get back on the right track.

Hope this helps.


Doug "Multiply Life by the power of Two."
ENGSTROMDD -at- phibred -dot- com
--The Indigo Girls

The preceding opinions and positions are mine alone, and are only
coincidentally related to those of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.

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