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HomeRants > How to organize a step-by-step procedure. > Put instructions into discrete steps. > Format steps so they stand out.

 


Use formatting to distinguish your steps

Number each step.

Use a bullet for the instruction in a one-step procedure.

Use bullets for optional actions

 

 

Format steps so they stand out.

Steps serve a particular function.  They answer questions that begin, "How do I..."

That is their job, their responsibility.

Their function, then, is not to answer questions such as ""What tools do I need to assemble before I start" or "What's the result of this action?"

The objects that answer those questions are introductions or explanations.

To articulate the difference between objects of different classes, and therefore of different function, we turn to formatting. 

So all steps should look different from the name of the procedure, the intro, and any explanations you choose to throw in. And all steps should look alike.

Steps should stand out, as obvious instructions.  Here are some tips on making your steps visible, as discrete objects.

Use formatting to distinguish your steps

You want people to be able to read a step, go to the task, work for a while, and then come back, and, immediately, find the next step.

Emphasize steps by giving the text some special format, such as boldfacing, larger size, different font, different color.

Often steps start farther to the left than explanations, which appear indented, in plain text, in separate paragraphs, below the steps.

But whatever choices you make along this line, make sure that you number your steps.

Additional detail on instructions:

Write short, energetic steps.

How many steps?

Separate explanations from steps

Resources:

Probe your audiences--gently.

Help (A chapter from Hot Text: Web Writing that Works. PDF: 995K, or about 18 minutes at 56K).

 

Number each step.

Numbers help readers keep their place.

Tip: Use an outliner that automatically numbers and renumbers so you can reposition a step in a sequence and keep the numbering correct. Making sure you number the steps while you're writing them will also help you become aware of the moment when a sequence becomes too long.

Example of steps without numbers

Locate the Instance menu, select the Init command, then issue it, complete the form, and initialize the instance. In the form, enter the purpose of your device in the Function field. (You may already have defined the purpose of the device when you created an instance of it; if so, that purpose appears in the field.)

Define the physical type by selecting an item from the scrolling list that appears when you click in the Type field.

The same actions, sorted out into numbered steps (with explanations moved into separate paragraphs)
1. Issue the Init command.
You may issue the command from the Device menu, or from your Design Flow.

The Initialization form now appears. (Art)

2. Enter the purpose of your device in the Function field.
You may already have defined the purpose of the device when you created an instance of it; if so, that purpose appears in the field.
3. Select the physical type from the scrolling list in the Type field.

4. Click OK.

The software now initializes the instance.

Use a bullet for the instruction in a one-step procedure.

How come?  People expect some kind of mark indicating a step.  A label.  But if you enter "1" and then have no "2" people feel as if you are cheating them, leaving out the rest of the procedure.  Solution?  Use a bullet for one-steps.

Example

Closing the Program

  • To close the program, choose Exit on the File menu.

 

Use bullets for optional actions

When you have a series of optional steps or variations that follow the main step but don't warrant numbered steps of their own, subordinate them in bulleted items. Indent these items, and lead into the bullets with some general statement such as "Do one of the following."

Example of bulleted options

5. Choose a printer from the Printers list.

  • If you want black-and-white output, choose the HP printer.
  • If you want to print in color, choose the Canon printer.
 

 

 

 


 

 

Was I supposed to put shaving soap on this brush before I rubbed my face?

 

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