RE: Task-oriented manuals

Subject: RE: Task-oriented manuals
From: "Michelle Wolfe" <WOLFEM -at- bcbsil -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 21 Jan 2000 10:14:49 -0600

Tara wrote:

<<To eliminate some weight of the manual and work effort, we're looking into creating a true "user manual" or task-oriented manual (with little reference), and then put the reference material in our online Help (such as description of windows, options, and so on).>>

I agree with Jane. You should reverse yourself about 180 degrees on the reference material online and task-oriented material offline. Users are interested in performing the tasks for their job, put that information where they can get it easily and painlessly.

If you want to see good examples of task-oriented help, look to Microsoft (oh boy, I can't belive I said this) ;-) Most often referred to as "How To" help, task-oriented help can provide a user with the information needed to do their job, whether it be writing a letter or performing a mail merge.

A dead giveaway to task-oriented help is that it's title begins with an action verb, e.g., perform, determine, create, change, move, etc. Now granted, although it begins with an action verb, what follows may not be true task-oriented help <grin>

Task oriented help is time consuming to produce if you do not know much about your users. You need to find out what they use the software for and then identify the steps they take to do the tasks. Often, building 80% of the tasks into help on a new system is a good start. Master users of the software often appreciate help for the 20% of tasks that are infrequently performed or very complex. This task-oriented help is much easier to put together once the software has been in use and those complex tasks identified.

The ideas from Tony Markatos are great. Follow his instruction and you will be able to deliver useful task-oriented help.

Michelle Wolfe
Training Consultant

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