I've been working in the software industry for quite some time and I have adapted to some of the jargon used by programmers pertaining to how the computer reads, understands, and executes code.

I am trying however to write documentation for the common person and I'm not sure if what I have in my head will be clear.

So I have a process where the system takes data from any of three sources, but there is a hierarchy so that something written in the first source is preferred over the second and third. Or, only if specific data is missing from the first source, then it is taken from the second or third.

How can I state this? I want to list them as 1,2,3 and say:

The following sources are listed in order of priority.

Is that clear? Or is there a better word or phrase?

  • 2
    The sources are checked for queued data in the following order: Source1, then Source2, then Source3. When one source is found to lack data, the next source is checked. - does this encompass your idea?
    – Davo
    Mar 22, 2017 at 11:41
  • @Davo that is a very accurate description. I assume you nix priority as I used it?
    – DAE
    Mar 22, 2017 at 11:47
  • I think defining the process like this removes potential ambiguity or misunderstanding. It is the same concept, but using the word 'priority' led me to much more lengthy descriptions.
    – Davo
    Mar 22, 2017 at 11:50
  • What do you mean: something written in the first source? Do you mean: something taken from the first source? Sources are prioritized by position 1, 2 or 3.
    – Lambie
    Mar 22, 2017 at 12:59
  • Preference, rank, precedence, significance, authority, standing, seniority, superiority. caliber, influence, value, weight, relevance.
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 23, 2017 at 1:49

2 Answers 2


I'm a software tech writer too. For a short list, I would write:

The application first tries to draw data from X. If that fails, it tries Y and then Z.

For a longer list or if it is important that the list stand out of the text:

The application tries first one data source, and then if that fails it tries another in the following order:

  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D

Writers often use passive voice is in our industry. Often, switching to the active voice helps me quickly reword things in a straightforward way.

  • +1 As a non-programmer, this is clear to me, without a lot of decoding. If the OP is talking about this concept a lot, this language could even serve as a definition of prioritizing/prioritization in this context and then the original version would work (later in the document).
    – 1006a
    Mar 22, 2017 at 13:49
  • Glad to hear people can understand my writing :D Also, I agree with your idea, @1006a.
    – Ryan Haber
    Mar 23, 2017 at 1:38

The sources are checked for queued data in the following order: Source1; then Source2; then Source3.

When one source is found to lack data, the next source is checked.

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