Re: Procedural Steps

Subject: Re: Procedural Steps
From: Elna Tymes <etymes -at- LTS -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 30 Oct 1996 09:50:38 -0800

Eric J. Ray wrote:

> 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.

Unfortunately, most publishers of after-market books don't have any
consistency to their editing of these steps either. In my experience,
most consider numbered steps to be a visual aid, rather than a practical
one. Numbered steps add white space and a visual kind of order to a
page, which makes it more appealing to the casual browser. And remember,
the goal of these publishers is to SELL books, not necessarily to
produce fine writing. So if a casual browser makes a buy decision based
on a cursory look at pages that appear to contain numbered steps, then
the publisher wins.

> 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.

Been there. Seen that. A LOT.

I don't know of usability studies supporting this idea, but I tend to
use the philosophy that numbered steps should be like a checklist -- you
do what's in that step and then you can check it off as completed.
There can be several activities in a single numbered step, if they are
all related ("Choose the whizzig option in the top box and the snurfle
option in the lower box, then click the OK button. The window

Think of the first time you tried to program your VCR -- you probably
read the instructions (eventually) carefully and followed the steps
shown. Once you succeeded, you may not have needed the instructions and
the steps, but you wanted something to guide you that first time.

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems

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