RE: Context-sensitive ethics and morals in documentation

Subject: RE: Context-sensitive ethics and morals in documentation
From: KMcLauchlan -at- chrysalis-its -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 6 Apr 2001 09:35:28 -0400

May I be so bold as to combine the threads?

Glenn Maxey [mailto:glenn -dot- maxey -at- voyanttech -dot- com] said:

> <rant>
> IMHO, such pop-up happy context-sensitive help is mostly
> useless. For a
> dialog box with, say, eight fields, the reader may have to
> click 16 times
> just to get all of the information about that dialog box.
> You'll waste all
> of your time implementing it and less time writing content.
> Too often, what
> is written is "the Fritz checkbox turns on and off the
> settings for Fritz."
> Nary does it say when to use Fritz or what would be valid. </rant>

I respectfully suggest that those kinds of 'What is?' "Help"
boxes are an abomination that no self-respecting or
customer-respecting writer would perpetrate. I'm betting they
are committed by programmers and not by writers.

Unfortunately, I see those flagrantly, aggressively useless
"the Fritz checkbox turns on and off the settings for Fritz"
popups far too often.

A really horrifying discovery was that the developers of
Linux environments and software seem not only to have
embraced and learned all their online user-documentation
techniques from the people who first foisted the travesty
on Windows audiences, but they have (in most cases I've
encountered) taken the practice to new heights/depths.

KDE and StarOffice are rife with the stuff, for example.
The little tools, applets, games, etc. that come with
Gnome and with KDE are a Help wasteland.

THE absolute, across-the-board standard-and-complete
substance for Help-menu content is a single "About this program"
box. If there's going to be any main-menu help at all,
it'll be the kind that dial-up internet users just love
to see... i.e., a link to somebody's web-site. The so-called
context-sensitive help seems to be universally of the "Fritz"
type that Glenn describes. It's an epidemic out there, kids.

That seems to be a problem of the dispersed-modular approach
to open source development. The Linux community is always
asking for people to volunteer to document both the OS and
the applications, but they seem to mean only the MAN pages
and the User Manual, monolithic stuff. They pointedly
don't seem to mean the niggly little bits of help that
should-be-but-aren't liberally sprinkled throughout a
user interface. Very many programmers seem happy to collaborate
with other programmers to solve all kinds of technical
difficulties in code, but seem grandly uninterested in
collaborating with a writer to figure out all the places
to insert Help hooks and all the content that should hang
on those many, many hooks.

There. I've analyzed it. Now, somebody else suggest a cure. :-)




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