Re: Creating Task Lists

Subject: Re: Creating Task Lists
From: "Jeanne A. E. DeVoto" <jaed -at- jaedworks -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 20 Nov 1999 02:46:34 -0800

At 6:37 AM -0800 11/19/99, claudette69 -at- mindspring -dot- com wrote:
>I am a junior writer in my first tech writing position
>(I'm a journalism refugee). One of my first assignments is to review the
>current online help documentation. My manager wants me to check for
>things like--tone, holes/inaccuracies in the documenation, if any topic
>needs further explanation, if glossary items should be added or deleted
>etc. A friend (who also happens to be a writer) suggested I create a
>task list and go menu by menu looking at all the commands, dialog boxes,
>fields, tabs etc. Then compare the task lists against whats documented
>in the help.

Pace the previous poster, I don't think this is at all a good way to
approach the creation of a task list. A task list is not a list of
"features and how to use them"; rather, it's a list of tasks that a
real-world user might want to use the software for. Your starting point
should be, not the way the program is organized (its menus, dialogs, etc.),
but the user's needs and perspective.

For example, "How do I print a document?" is a user task; "How do I use the
print dialog box?" is not. Though the subject matter is the same, and the
grammatical form of the section title is the same, the approach is
different. Similarly, "How do I connect to the Internet?" is a user-based
task; but "How do I use basic TCP/IP features?" is feature-based. (No user
ever sat down at the computer and said, "Today I realy want to use basic
TCP/IP features." ;-0)

More subtly, "How do I move text from one part of the document to another?"
is a user-based task, but "How do I cut text?" is not, because cutting text
is only one part of moving it around, and users don't just cut text as a
complete task: they move it within the document, or move it to another
document, or delete it. You might use the "Cut" menu item while performing
any of these tasks...but documenting the menu item's action, rather than
the user-based task, will give users only a piece of the puzzle they're
looking to solve.

jeanne a. e. devoto ~ jaed -at- jaedworks -dot- com

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