Re: Procedural Steps

Subject: Re: Procedural Steps
From: Kathy Fisher <kdfisher -at- IX -dot- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 30 Oct 1996 01:54:47 -0800

Eric J. Ray wrote:

> Gang,

> I've been doing some research into using procedural
> steps, as in:

> 1. Select some text.
> 2. Click the B button.
> 3. Do something else.

> I've been looking into several issues, but noticed
> that some commercial software manuals (as in the
> Dummies books, XXX Made Easy, ABCs of XXX,
> and similar series) often do not consistently
> or regularly number the steps.

> I've always assumed that each numbered step should
> reflect an action on the part of the reader. That is,
> if there are three things the reader must do,
> there should be three steps. I've found that many
> books present the information as
> 1. Select some text.
> 2. The text will appear highlighted on the screen.
> 3. Click the B button.
> 4. The text will be boldfaced.
> 5. Do something else.

> with all kinds of numbered stuff that doesn't require
> action.

> Alternatively, many present the information in
> paragraph form, as in.
> To apply boldface formatting to text, select the
> text, then click the B button. After you're finished,
> do something else.
> One book I sampled doesn't use a numbered list
> in about 300 pages.

> Do any of you know anything about the various schools
> of thought or usability tests that would support
> either of the second two examples? I personally
> REALLY object to the numbered non-steps, and
> think that the paragraph approach leaves a lot
> to be desired, but someone's blowing a lot of
> money on publishing these books -- comments?

> Eric
> Eric,

You are right. Most of those manuals are very poorly written. I would
say that those companies are wasting money publishing a document whose
steps are not sequentially numbered (so the user knows exactly what to
do, and in what order). And it makes no sense to imbed in a paragraph
specific instructions to the user--that style is very difficult to follow
and would never fly in an industry that requires procedures to be
followed precisely, especially those dealing with environmental, health,
and safety issues.

IMO, any steps that require a response or action from the reader or user
should be numbered 1, 2, 3, or A, B, C, etc. Any supplemental
information (or info that is "nice to know") that supports each step can
be entered as a NOTE under the particular step it modifies. When steps
do not need to be performed in any particular order, it's fine to use
bullets and place the steps in a list. Hope this helps.

--
Kathy Fisher
Technical/Business Writing, Editing, Proposals, Manuals, Desktop
Publishing
http://members.aol.com/KDFisher/kdfisher-index.html


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