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Part 1: Easy to use > Task orientation

Chapter 2. Task orientation

Don't tell me how it works, tell me how to use it.

—A customer

Task-oriented writing is writing in terms of how the user does the task. You rarely help your users when you tell them only how a product works or how it is structured internally. Your users have a job to do, so they need practical information—how-to information.

You need to understand the tasks that you're writing about from your users' perspective. Do a task analysis to determine which tasks are most important to each group of users, which tasks are most frequent, and which tasks are most difficult. Make a list of the high-level tasks that users will do with your product.

You can divide high-level tasks, such as getting started with the product, into groups of lower-level tasks, such as installing the product and setting up the product. Each of these tasks might also be divided into still lower-level tasks until you have groups of manageable tasks that make sense to the user. For example, opening a bank account is a discrete task that makes sense for a user to do. However, the action of typing an address might be a step of a task, but it is not a task on its own.

Task topics, whether high-level or low-level, are the most important types of topics for users because tasks help users do their jobs. Users are frustrated if they cannot complete a task. Task-oriented topics get the user back “on task.” Like a compass on a journey, tasks provide direction.

To make information task oriented, follow these guidelines:

  • Write for the intended audience.

  • Present information from the user's point of view.

  • Indicate a practical reason for information.

  • Focus on real tasks, not product functions.

  • Use headings that reveal the tasks.

  • Divide tasks into discrete subtasks.

  • Provide clear, step-by-step instructions.

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