Procedural Steps

Subject: Procedural Steps
From: Steve Shewchuk <sshewchu -at- MAILHOST -dot- UWI -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 31 Oct 1996 10:16:54 -0700

Eric Ray said:

>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?

I don't have any information about usability tests, but we've been putting
together some help files that have numbered steps, so I do have a few

1) The "numbered non-steps" may be annoying, but I have just as big a
problem with something like:

#1 From the Windows menu, select Options. The options window will open on
the right hand side of the screen.

As you can see, I have combined the step with the non-step. But to my mind
it defeats the purpose of creating a numbered list: to present *short*,
easy to follow steps. When you look at a numbered list, and each item in
that list is multiple lines, it takes away from the simplicity of the
format. And in help files, you do have to try to be simple when guiding
somebody through the steps.

2) I like the paragraph approach for tutorials. You can take the time to
explain what's happening, and why it's happening. In theory, this is
information the reader wants while going through a tutorial. But it's not
a very useful style for quick help style presentations.

The solution? Well, I've noticed that many of the Microsoft manuals
present numbered steps that don't describe what should happen as a result.
I imagine they feel that the results will be self-evident, and in many
software packages I'd say they could be right. I'm still not sure whether
I feel this is the best way to approach the situation, but it's the only
way I can think of to present numbered steps that aren't either cluttered
with "result" information, or interspersed with "non-steps".

Anyway, that's my 2 cents.

Steve Shewchuk
Technical Writer

UWI Unisoft Wares Incorporated
Tel: (604)479-8334
email: sshewchu -at- uwi -dot- com

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