Susan Slaughter

It’s a menu, it’s a button, it’s a…mutton?

In Detritus, Enterprise Guide, Everything, Little SAS Book Series, SAS on August 28, 2009 at 3:59 pm

The other kind of mutton

The other kind of mutton

Reflections on the vicissitudes of technical writing

If all software developers were also technical writers, software would always make sense. Unfortunately, in the real world, we are rarely so lucky. As a result, hapless tech writers—such as yours truly—are left with the unenviable challenge of describing in a logical manner features that are fundamentally whimsical.

I’m sure most people who read my work can’t imagine how much time we spend hammering out the exact use of terminology. Heaven forbid that I should call something a pull-down menu when it’s really a pop-up menu; or that I should refer to the Open window when it’s really the Open File window. Is a particular feature a page or a pane? It is tempting to call it a pain, but, of course, we can’t do that.

EG 4.2 presents tech. writers with a generous dose of opportunity to develop skills of elucidation. In particular, EG 4.2 introduces a large number of novel things never before described by SAS tech. writers. One of them is the Run button. This formerly straightforward button will be familiar to anyone who has ever used a task in EG. In EG 4.2 the Run button has sprouted a down arrow. If users click the Run button, they will get the same result as before: The task will run. If users click the arrow, then they will be presented with a list of choices—a menu. It’s a button and it’s a menu. As best I can tell, this makes it a mutton.

The Run mutton only offers two choices: Run or Create template. These are two totally different actions (at least from the point of view of a user) so why not give us two separate buttons?

The Run mutton may not make as much sense as it could, but at least with only two functions, it’s not too hard for a tech writer to describe. A much more complicated set of things appears at the top of the workspace—except when it doesn’t. At first, I though these context-sensitive (and therefore ever-shifting like the sands of the Sahara Desert) things were menus. Then I realized that some of them are simple buttons, without any choices. Once in a while an icon appears unescorted. So that makes them button/menu/tools. What do you call that? A muttool?

What’s a tech writer to say except, “Baa-aa-aa-aa.”

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