Voice-over in online tutorials - opinions?

Subject: Voice-over in online tutorials - opinions?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 26 Apr 2001 12:02:01 -0400

Abby Schiff reports: <<My group is involved with creating online tutorials
for a number of our software applications. These tutorials contain a mix of
text, static images, and interactive elements (done in Flash) in which a
user can: * View a demo of the feature being discussed * Try it out
themselves... We've had very good results so far with these tutorials. Now
our CTO is suggesting that we add a voice-over element that "reads" the text
in the text-box.>>

Ah, obviously a theatre fan: " 'tis a tale told by an idiot, full of sound
and fury, signifying nothing."--Will Shakespeare (no bonus points for naming
the play <g>)

<<I really see no reason to do this; to me, voice-overs are distracting.>>

And they are. The more things that are going on simultaneously, the harder
it is for the poor victim to focus on any one thing and thus, the poorer the
resulting communication. Jared Spool gave a presentation a couple years ago
at STC Anaheim (Toronto?) about some online help he was testing. Users
greatly preferred a version of the help with "talking heads", but despite
this preference, performed much less well after listening to this help than
they did with traditional "just the facts, ma'am" help. Some of the UIE
people hang out on techwr-l, so perhaps one of them can provide more

<<Also, our software changes frequently and having to change the voice-over
would add significantly to our turnaround time, and it would create larger
files & longer download times.>>

All this is true, but there might be extenuating circumstances. Voiceovers
would be very valuable in one specific situation: if users must focus their
eyes on the task at hand rather than on reading explanatory text. So if the
person is assembling parts in their lap, and the parts fit together very
easily and logically but the sequence isn't clear, the spoken instruction
"first, attach the blue flange to the orange widget" might well be far more
effective than the written equivalent. Or not. Ditto if the person is
driving a car and just wants to know which way to turn at the next
intersection. So it depends on the task and the audience. Ask your CTO to
explain the specific benefits he foresees in terms of your specific
audience; he might just be onto something.

<<Has anyone experienced this same issue?>>

Yup. We produced the information and mockup for a training CD for truck
drivers (to be produced by the client), and the client insisted on adding a
voiceover. I guess they wanted to accomodate the needs of the many blind
truckers? <g> Facetiousness aside, they seemed to believe that the audience
is relatively low-literacy, and in that case, spoken text could be far more
effective than written text.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"How are SF writers like technical writers? Well, we both write about the
things we imagine will happen in the future!"--Sue Gallagher


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