Re: Re[4]: What sayest me... on Worthless TC Degrees

Subject: Re: Re[4]: What sayest me... on Worthless TC Degrees
From: "Tim Altom" <taltom -at- simplywritten -dot- com>
To: "Harry Hager" <hhager -at- dttus -dot- com>, "TechDoc List" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 27 Mar 2000 09:17:17 -0500

Have you ever tested users and their navigation preferences? In our
experience, and the experience of most people I've talked to, users squawk
about wanting an index, but never use it. The tool's in the box, but nobody
seems to reach for it. The same applies to site maps on websites...they're
delighted when they get them, but they still swing predictably to that
left-side menu when it's time to go somewhere else.

One of the extremely dark blind spots I've noticed in our industry is that
our heuristics tend to be the reactions we'd have. But most of us are
writers and we react differently to printed matter. Users offer startlingly
different paradigms and preferences. When I'm looking through a book, I use
indexes all the time, far more often than tables of contents, in fact. But I
learned the hard way just how unusual that is. Users seem to like manuals
that isolate types of information in specific places...field descriptions
fully separate from steps, and easily picked out of the surrounding
material. It's true that in some software there are depths and layers of
dialog boxes and windows. But users seem to like flow charts of them when
they're REALLY confused, and appendices with field descriptions when they're
merely curious. In fact, users seem to tolerate any number of other sins, so
long as they can find what they're looking for quickly. And remarkably
enough, few of them even look in an index when one's provided.

I'm not saying this applies in every situation. I AM saying that you should
do some testing (not polling, by the way) to see if your assumption is
valid. I've seen many thousands of words wasted on this list over the years
arguing on behalf of some layout, font, or organization pattern, when
usability testing would have settled the issue. By all means, test some
sample users and if they flip to the index when they can't find something,
supply one. But be prepared to be shocked. Don't prod them, either...let
them decide what navigation path to use.

Tim Altom
Simply Written, Inc.
Featuring FrameMaker and the Clustar(TM) System
"Better communication is a service to mankind."
317.562.9298
Check our Web site for the upcoming Clustar class info
http://www.simplywritten.com


> Why would you want to minimize the need for an index (except for
> budgeting reasons as you mention at the end of your message)? An
index
> is one of the primary navigation tools a reader has for the book.






References:
Re[4]: What sayest me... on Worthless TC Degrees: From: Harry Hager

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