"Displays": Second thoughts

Subject: "Displays": Second thoughts
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Thu, 22 May 1997 07:49:49 -0500

In response to the use of "display" as an intransitive
verb, I had originally posted <<A better approach is
something like "To display the dialog box, do X...": this
uses the verb properly, puts the most important contextual
information up front (so the reader can decide whether to
continue reading the rest of the sentence), and has a few
other virtues such as phrasing instructions in the
imperative voice, where they belong.>>

Several kind folk contacted me off-list to suggest that
although this is correct in essence, it kinda misses the
point. Agreed... I'd addressed the original question, and
neglected to explore the end result. As my correspondents
noted, this approach is what Janice Redish calls
"pseudo-task orientation": nobody really wants to open a
dialog box, they just want to accomplish some goal (e.g.,
open a file) via the dialog box.

In addition, there are two very different types of
learners, who adopt different approaches to following
instructions. Contextual learners (myself included) do
indeed want the context first so that we can understand the
process (hopefully) well enough that we won't have to
return to the description next time we attempt the task.
Those who are simply interested in completing the task
could care less about context... they just want the steps,
with as little interference from context as possible. So
whether to put the context up front or at the end of the
sentence will depend on your audience's preference, not on
any "one best answer". Hope that helps.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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