Re: Task-based vs. descriptive online help

Subject: Re: Task-based vs. descriptive online help
From: "Lisa Wright" <liwright -at- qwest -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 07 Mar 2001 10:49:13 -0700

I'm in the "when in doubt, leave it in" camp. Nothing pisses me off like
going into online help and not being able to find specific information
about a field/function/button. Frequently I know how to perform a task,
but I want to know how choosing a specific option affects the overall
task, and I can't find the information because the tech writer(s) were
so fascinated with doing task-based help that they just skipped any
useful reference information altogether. Your users are going into the
online help for a variety of purposes, not just "How do I..." Especially
with paper manuals becoming more scarce, I think it's incumbent upon
writers to provide as much useful information as possible, including
documenting the entire application beyond the task perspective.

Bury it if you want, but don't delete it. Maybe one of the ways you
could make the screen captures more useful is to expand on the blurbs,
give them better information, maybe even link to topics???? Just some
ideas (don't know if they're practical).

I think task based help is a great thing, but it does not meet the needs
of more sophisticated users who want to understand *why* something works
the way it does. In my help system, which is just straight HTML right
now, I address additional user needs by:

* Reference topics listed in the TOC, e.g., "Why Whoozits are Better
* An overview of what the application does
* Clickable glossary terms within the instructions
* Tables at the end of topics to discuss the different options, e.g., on
a search page, instructions to perform a search and then a table that
explains each search option and the kind of data the search returns.

"Standards for Online Communication" by Joanne Hackos and Dawn Stevens
provides good information on the different levels of user and what kinds
of information they need.

YMMV, etc.
Lisa Wright
Technical Writer
PeakEffects, Inc.

Christine -dot- Anameier -at- seagate -dot- com wrote:

> I'd like to hear what other writers think: would the guided-tour stuff be
> helpful to users? If so, is it helpful in a "when in doubt, leave it in;
> somewhere out there there's somebody who will want it" way, or can anyone
> point me to some research that indicates this kind of documentation really
> is valuable to users?


Develop HTML-Based Help with Macromedia Dreamweaver 4 ($100 STC Discount)
**New Dates!!** San Francisco (Apr 16-17), San Jose (Mar 29-30) or 800-646-9989.

IPCC 01, the IEEE International Professional Communication Conference,
October 24-27, 2001 at historic La Fonda in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.

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