Raymond E. Urgo, Urgo & Associates
Printed with permission from http://www.urgoconsulting.com
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.
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:
- When to begin
- Items needed
- 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