Re: Task-based vs. descriptive online help? (quasi-summary)

Subject: Re: Task-based vs. descriptive online help? (quasi-summary)
From: Christine -dot- Anameier -at- seagate -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2001 10:42:18 -0600


Mike Starr wrote: << Put me down as an old-fashioned guy but it seems to me
a lot of the "Let's just do task-based help files" is because it's quicker,
easier and cheaper to do it that way. When you've got an enormously
complicated software application, it can take a massive effort to create an
online help topic for each object (button, field, drop-down list box,
option button, etc.) as well as an overview topic for each dialog box. It's
just so much easier to create an online help file with a few dozen common
tasks and no reference information.>>

Funny, that is the precise opposite of what I see happening. It doesn't
take a massive effort to take text and images from the spec and reuse them
for the online help. Quick, easy, and cheap. Much easier than thinking in
depth about what the user is trying to achieve and how to help them do it.

Maybe it would take a "massive effort" to do reference information that has
tons of substantial relevant detail and requires lengthy and complex
interviews with SMEs. But that's not the kind of reference information I
was bashing. What I was objecting to was the kind of surface-level,
largely self-evident stuff that I often see in help files: e.g., you have a
screen capture of a dialog box, you click on the Address field, and a popup
informs you that this is the Address field and it contains the Address. Or
you click the Widget Ferbulation entry on the menu and a popup tells you
that Widget Ferbulation takes you to the Widget Ferbulation screen.

Do most users call tech support because they can't figure out how to do
something, or because they want to ask what the acceptable values are for
the "Asynchronous task timer" field? I would agree that we need to give
both types of information to the users, but I would argue that we save
Glenn the tech support guy more bouts with alligators by making the
task-based material clear and abundant.

Christine


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