Guidelines on number of "things" per Help topic?

Subject: Guidelines on number of "things" per Help topic?
From: Geoff Hart <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2000 08:43:54 -0500

Tara Bucheger wonders: <<Are there any guidelines/rules of thumb as to how
many "things" per Help topic are good practices to follow? By "things" I
mean: links, buttons, related topics/alinks, keywords/index markers... How
about the number of topics in a Browse sequence?>>

There's only one good rule of thumb: "as many as are necessary to
communicate the points you're trying to communicate". You may hear "7 plus
or minus 2" mentioned (based on George Miller's research), but that research
relates to short-term memory and bears little or no relevance for this and
most similar technical communication issues.

That being said, there is a point at which you're overloading a topic. The
only really good way to find out how many of each "thing" to put in a topic
is to find out what information your audience needs to extract from a topic.
If there are three closely related topics, then you need three "see also"
things; you don't need "see also" for distantly related topics just for the
sake of completeness. If there are 10 words in need of definition, then you
need 10 popups or (rather than filling the topic with underlined words) a
glossary that holds all the definitions in a single place. If there are 17
buttons in the dialog box, then you need 17 buttons in the topic that
describes it; you don't need to insert descriptions for OK and Cancel and
other stuff like that, since that will likely fall under the procedural
information (e.g., "Click OK to finish this procedure."). If there are more
things to document, then you need more things in the help; if there are
fewer, then you need fewer.

--Geoff Hart, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"The paperless office will arrive when the paperless toilet
arrives."--Matthew Stevens

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