RE: Numbering Steps for Multiple Paths

Subject: RE: Numbering Steps for Multiple Paths
From: David Cramer <dacramer -at- videon -dot- wave -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 22 Sep 1999 11:05:25 -0500

On Tue, 21 Sep 1999, "Jan Stanley" <janron -at- concentric -dot- net> said:

>Melanie wonders about numbering single-step procedures: "It
>seems strange to have a number 1 without a number 2, but it looks
>terrible (to me) to have a numbered sequence parallel with an
>unnumbered sequence."
>
>The thing is, if it's just one action, it's not really a
>_sequence_, so it doesn't need to be numbered. And if a reader
>sees "1.," he or she is likely to think that "2.," etc., got left
>out accidentally.


Sorry, I can't buy this argument, although I have seen it and had it a
number of times over the last few years. A step is a step.

I have seen examples of reference material with single-step operations
formatted without numbers and with multi-step operations formatted with
numbers. In some cases, I have not even realized that the un-numbered steps
were intended to be equivalent operations at first. They tended to look
more like commments, or advisory information, that was separate and
fundamentally different in function from the numbered steps. This is _not
good_.

I really don't believe that readers think that when they see a "1" with no
"2" following that the "2" got left out accidentally. I believe this is one
of those user interface analyses that sounds plausible; it just doesn't
happen.

CRAMER'S LAWS

- If it's a step, number it.
- If it's not a step, don't number it.

CRAMER'S COROLLARIES

- If it has a number, it's a step.
- If it doesn't have a number, it's not a step.

(attrib. to distant relative Aristotle Cramer)

As far as I can see, Melanie's initial example showing users how to perform
a 2-step operation OR a single-step operation demonstrates really well what
can happen if numbering is not used consistently regardless of the number
of steps. Without numbers, it can be really unclear if the single-step
alternative is an alternative to the whole preceding 2 steps, or just the
second step alone.

Regards,

David

David Cramer, Process Innovation Evangelist 87-1313 Border Street
PBSC Computer Training Centres (an IBM company) Winnipeg MB R3H 0X4
Corporate Office Research & Development Canada






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