Subject: Branching...Results
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 19 Jun 1996 22:17:00 EST

Thanks to everyone who answered my post about branching techniques for
instructions, when the software user can take one of several paths through
the screens or fields based on the moment's circumstances. I originally said
that we'd only been able to find or develop two basic ways: graphical, which
usually means a flow chart of some kind, and tabular, essentially "if-then"
tables or bare text in a tabular format. However, the graphics fail if the
user is graphic-impaired (and more are than we care to admit) and the tables
(even without the trappings of true tables) require a great deal of
reflection if the branches are numerous. But since we can't usually justify
developing both, we make a decision on the fly...and you know the rest of
this song.

Nobody else suggested any other method, though. One respondent suggested
that we rethink the need to provide branching instructions at all. That has
validity in certain circumstances. Perhaps we sometimes tend to over-drive
the user. Another respondent proposed giving the user a typical scenario,
but avoiding making up a complete branching guide, since the possible
branching combinations can sometimes be counted into the hundreds or even
thousands, if the matrix has too many dimensions. At some point, the whole
thing becomes an exercise in systems analysis instead of user-oriented

For some software, though, branching instructions are inevitable. For those
we'll probably continue to rely mostly on if-then branches that are usually
indented in the flow of instructions, to distinguish them from full-fledged
steps. Perhaps that can be augmented with a single huge flow diagram in an
appendix, for those who need to see the whole process at a glance. But it's
also probably worthwhile to ask ourselves if branching is really necessary
here and now.

Again, thanks to everyone who contributed.

Tim Altom
Vice President, Simply Written, Inc.
317.899.5882 (voice) 317.899.5987 (fax)
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