Reducing Employee Reading Time to Follow

Home/Publications/CIDM eNews/Information Management News 08.12/Reducing Employee Reading Time to Follow

Raymond E. Urgo, Urgo & Associates
Printed with permission from http://www.urgoconsulting.com

Questions

How can we reduce the amount of time needed for employees to read instructions, so they can easily follow procedures? Is there a way to layout the procedure and the supplementary information so it is not intertwined?

Advice in Short

I suspect that your procedure documentation blends supplementary and procedural information. Your users must then filter the explanatory information from “how to” steps to perform a task. The “how to” steps should be separate from supplementary information and presented in an easily distinguishable and accessible way to enable users to understand and perform each task.

Definition: Procedure

A procedure is a set of step-by-step instructions that results in a specified outcome for performing a task. Examples of procedure topics include:

  • Setting the table
  • Preparing Tax Form 123A
  • How to log on application
  • How to determine amount of refund

Definition: Supplementary Information

Supplementary information supports a subtopic within a major topic, such as a procedure (set of steps). This information should not be “nice to know”, but should include relevant and necessary information to support the procedure steps. Examples include:

  • Responsibility
  • When to begin
  • Items needed
  • Importance
  • Related topics

Importance of Supplementary Information

Supplementary information is useful to users (especially novices) who may need to understand the context for the procedure. Documented clearly, supplementary information helps users perform confidently and value the documentation. When supplementary information is distinguishable from the procedure steps, users can easily and quickly access what they need when they need it.

Adding Supplementary Information for Procedure

For information that is necessary to support or clarify the procedure (set of steps), create a subtopic and add a subtitle. Place each subtopic in the order that best supports the procedure, either before or after the steps. For example, the set of steps for “Setting the Table” might include the following order of subtopics:

  • Importance of task
  • Items needed
  • When to set the table
  • Diagram of table layout
  • Procedure
    [main subtopic]

Adding Supplementary Information Within Steps

For each step in a procedure, create a one-sentence imperative statement beginning with the action verb for what to do. Avoid using supplementary information within each step because it slows the reading and performance momentum for the user. If supplementary information is relevant to perform a step, label the information based upon its purpose. Suggested labels that could support a step might include “Note,” “Example”, and “Result”. An example is as follows:

Step 3

Type the bank account number and press Enter.
Result: The customer’s 12 months’ account activity displays.

When several steps require a “Note” or other supplementary information, there may be a weakness in the ability of the writer to master effective procedures communication. Learning the fundamentals of procedures communication may then be necessary.

Conclusion

To enable organizations to function well, actions steps in procedures are what employees need. Supplementary information should only be used to support the procedural information and identified and separated from the procedure subtopic or, if necessary, within a step of the procedure.

About the Author
Raymond E. Urgo, principal of Los Angeles-based Urgo & Associates, is an internationally recognized expert, thought leader, educator, author, and speaker on the development, communication, and management of policies and procedures (P&P) programs and content in organizations. For his contributions in P&P to the technical communication profession, he holds the honorary rank, Fellow, in the Society for Technical Communication. He is the publisher of the award-winning e-newsletter The Policies & Procedures Authority.