Posted by: Jack Henry | March 19, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Describe One Way to Perform an Action

When writing instructions, you might find that there’s more than one way to complete an action. For example, there are at least five ways to save a Microsoft® Word document.

Some writers think that it’s best to give readers a lot of choices, but instructions like the following can be confusing:

Example: Click Save or press Ctrl+S or press F12 or click File > Save or click File > Save As.

Experienced users might be annoyed that you’re wasting time telling them how to do a simple action. Inexperienced users might be overwhelmed by the choices. Instead of quickly saving the file and moving on to the next step, they might stop to wonder which method of saving is best.

Pick a single method that will work for the largest number of readers. For example, if readers might be performing the task on a phone or tablet, avoid references to keyboard shortcuts. Similarly, if the Save button is hidden by default, choose a different method that will work for most people.

Always consider your audience. If your instructions are intended for experienced computer users, you don’t need to document every keystroke. High-level instructions like the following are fine for some readers:

Example: Save the file, and then upload it to the Public folder.

Ben Ritter | Technical Editor | Symitar®
8985 Balboa Avenue | San Diego, CA 92123
619-682-3391 | or ext. 763391 |

Symitar Documentation Services

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