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Van der Meij, H., Blijleven, P. & Jansen, L. (2003). What makes up a procedure? In M.J. Albers & B. Mazur (Eds.), Content & Complexity. Information design in technical communication (pp. 129-186). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Procedures play a vital role in technical documentation as they guide people in performing a task. They are the heart of most manuals. It is therefore somewhat surprising that the theoretical and empirical knowledge on their nature has remained elusive, by and large. This chapter advances a theoretical framework for creating and describing procedures. In addition, it illustrates and tests this framework with data from 52 software manuals and 52 hardware manuals. Our goal was to create a better sense of self-identity and tradition and in doing so better position ourselves for perceiving the strengths and weaknesses of existing practices.
The Four Components model of a procedure that we describe in this chapter is based on David Farkas’ taxonomy of procedural discourse (1999). The four components in the model are: goals, prerequisite states, unwanted states (warnings and problem-solving information) and actions & reactions.
First, we discuss the ‘states and actions’ model that underlies the Four Components model and we present how we sampled and analyzed the 104 procedures. Thereafter each component is presented from a theoretical point of view which is summarized in a set of design guidelines. A discussion of the findings from the inventory concludes each section. We round off the chapter with a brief statement on how the insights gained from the study can further be used in the design of technical communication.