Document Design and Production



Design of Procedures


Procedures reading

Discussion questions


An article idea sitting in my idea queue is to discuss the differences in the type of information required and how the communication needs are quite different between procedures, problem-solving, and information seeking (such as looking up health information). One problem I see is that too much of a technical writer's mental model is geared toward procedures, which causes problems with the other two. What are the problems & differences? How do they effect the quality of technical documents?

Note that the procedures, problem-solving, and information seeking are all different types of technical writing (different genres). They are not to be considered as different facets of one document.

weak answer The propensity toward writing procedures, according to Douglas R. Wieringa in his article Why Do We Really Write Procedures, is because writing procedures is easy. In many ways, writing procedures is an easy fallback for technical writers who often produce documents on information with which they are unfamiliar. The procedure may contain conceptual information or feedback on what successfully completing a step may look like, but they are directly related to the procedure. A potential problem may be the amount of conceptual information and feedback provided.


In the undergrad class, I spend lots of time telling the students to write procedures with two levels, so they can address different audience knowledge levels, such as:

6. Remove the border from the text box

a. Click on Format-Text box
b. Change the color from black to No line
c. Press OK

What's the advantage here? What are the potential problems? How does it support multiple audiences? How would graphics be integrated with this style of design? Is the statement for #6 fundementally different from the statements 6a, 6b, and 6c.

weak answer Procedures help users complete a task. All users bring a different level of knowledge to procedures. Procedure writers need to make sure that they accommodate the varying levels of user knowledge. Writing procedures with two levels is a great idea, so the user with more knowledge can complete the task without reading the details and so the user with less knowledge can read the details to complete the task. For graphics, I think that screen shots showing an overview would work best for users. I would include cueing techniques to help certain users.


Thoughts to ponder


What should we ponder?



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