"Ideal" help system was task-orientated vs. reference help

Subject: "Ideal" help system was task-orientated vs. reference help
From: Sybille Sterk <sybille -at- wowfabgroovy -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 08 Mar 2001 11:46:38 +0000

Dear All,

What is you ideal help system? What do you expect to find in the help, if you buy a new program you know nothing about?

Nowadays many people choose to buy software on the internet, one, because it is cheaper, two, because it is quicker. However, often you then don't get a manual with your software, or you get one but you have to print it out. In this scenario, how much help is a references help system?

I've been buying software of the internet and find that reference help is just not enough to get you started, which means I know have to go out and buy a "4 dummies" book. Let me tell you, I am not happy about this.

Quite apart from myself, I know there are many users who don't even look at a manual, mainly people who work with computers a lot and just don't have time for that kind of documentation. They expect either tutorials or task-orientated help, or, even better, both.

The best example of on-line documentation I've found so far is the MacroMedia on-line help. There are tutorials for beginners, which lead you through the main tasks, advanced tutorials, context-sensitive information, which tells you what a desktop item (menu, dialog, toolbar etc) does, and task-orientated information either within the context-sensitive topic or accessible via this topic.

I suppose it depends on how "your" users access the information they need and what kinds of information they want. It also depends on how easy to use the software you document is.

However, I find that I myself usually want to know how to perform a certain task, so I click on the help and expect to find the information in the help. If it's not there, I am generally p****d off. I don't want to dig out some huge manual(s), or have to print out a manual before I find the info I am looking for. Especially, if I then find out that this information is not in the manual.

Looking at Microsoft, even they have just a brief manual and all the other information you might need in the help... Not that I think the Microsoft help is particularly brilliant...

What do you think?

Sybille Sterk
Email: sybille -at- wowfabgroovy -dot- net
Web Site: www.wowfabgroovy.net
"This writing business. Pencils and what-not.
Over-rated, if you ask me. Silly stuff. Nothing in it." -- Eeyore


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