Getting sequences right

The M*A*S*H episode “The Army-Navy Game” illustrates the importance of getting sequences right in technical writing. Blake and Trapper John are trying to defuse a bomb:

LT. COL. HENRY BLAKE (reading instructions)
And carefully cut the wires leading to the clockwork fuse at the head.

TRAPPER JOHN (cuts the wires)

LT. COL. HENRY BLAKE
But first, remove the fuse.

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4 Responses

  1. Brilliant!

    I’m reading Catch 22 at the moment and it’s full of scenes like this.

  2. I LOVE that episode. In fact, I’ve been thinking about this as it applies to tech writing. And by coincidence, it was on just the other day.

    I’d guess this happens more often than we’d like to know in cases when user assistance is treated as an afterthought.

  3. Getting ALL the steps in a sequence is the “gotcha” I’ve run into. If the SME for the procedure does it in a production environment, that is, they do it frequently and repetitively, they tend to describe only the steps they do consciously, and leave out the little steps and details (like entering the directory name) that they have incorporated into their personal autopilot for that procedure. The steps they do without thinking about them are what they do not remember to describe when you attempt to record the procedure.

    You always have to follow up by testing the procedure sequence with someone who has not used it before, with the SME observing , to find those hidden gaps.

  4. Ivan and Bill, glad you got a kick out of the quote!

    Good point, techquestioner! I had run a sequence of mine by several experts to make sure it was complete. Just today, I found out it wasn’t. So I went back to my experts – and they said: “Oh, but those steps aren’t really essential…” 🙂

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