RE: Usefulness of "What's This" help

Subject: RE: Usefulness of "What's This" help
From: "Glenn Maxey" <glenn -dot- maxey -at- voyanttech -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 29 May 2001 12:29:05 -0600

I do have some empirical evidence. I just don't remember where. It may have
come from Jared Spool UIE or from sessions attended at the WinWriter's

The jist of the studies: if the information that is served up is relevant
and useful to the task at hand, it doesn't matter whether it came as a
pop-up, as a banner topic, as embedded help, etc. However, you don't want
the mechanics of the delivery mechanism to get in the way of the user's
quest for truth and understanding. This is where I come down harshly on
"what's this" help.

IMHO you'll be able to create a much better system without "what's this".
They say that with websites, "less Flash is more." The same applies to help
systems. Less whiz-bang pop-up's is more.


Personal experiences and burn scars from my trials-by-fire.


As the other posters mentioned, mouse-over tool tips are great. I, too, find
them indispensible.

Another story entirely for "What's This" help (e.g., the tiny question mark
in the corner of dialog boxes; you click on it to turn the cursor into a
question-mark-arrow; thereafter when you click on an item, it opens an
associated pop-up.)

I hate this for reasons of usability and implementation.

>From a usability stand-point, IMHO it's bad because the chunks of
information that are served up in the pop-up are too small. More often than
not, I need information about the ENTIRE DIALOG BOX and how individual
settings work with one another, and not just one field-level item. Hence,
there is too much effort involved with just getting all of the pop-up
information. I also find it disruptive (covering my application) and its
non-persistence annoying (because it goes way whenever I click anywhere.) It
makes it difficult to mentally extract more than two small bits of important
info and apply it to my dialog box without calling up the same pop-up again
and again.

>From an implementation stand-point -- something you can control --, these
pop-up all too often don't have enough meaty info about the item in
question. Worse, they often don't have the navigation control to take you to
more meaty topics.

I wouldn't recommend scrapping completely the effort that went into this
kind of help. Instead, -- to repeat other postings of mine --, I recommend
altering it. Specifically, first have the developers change the API call to
be a topic jump (to a banner topic) instead of a pop-up call. Second, create
mid-topic jumps from the field-level context IDs. This takes the user where
they need to be inside of a bigger topic which provides surrounding context.
In the long-run, it'll be easier to maintain.

Part of my reasoning is that by clicking on the question mark or by pressing
F1 within a field of a dialog box, the user is actively seeking help. If the
information that is served up is relevant and helpful, user's won't care
whether it was in a pop-up or a winhelp instance. The latter, however, ends
up being much more useful because it has navigation, TOC, & index buttons,
and is more persistent.

Glenn Maxey
Voyant Technologies, Inc.
Tel. +1 303.223.5164
Fax. +1 303.223.5275
glenn -dot- maxey -at- voyanttech -dot- com

> -----Original Message-----
> From: bounce-techwr-l-58477 -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
> [mailto:bounce-techwr-l-58477 -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com]On Behalf Of Christopher
> Clunas
> Sent: Tuesday, May 29, 2001 10:28 AM
> Subject: Usefulness of "What's This" help
> Hi,
> Does anyone have any empirical research on the value of "What's This" help
> to users? I'm wondering if a particular product would suffer in
> any way if
> we removed that kind of help from it.
> Thanks,
> Christopher


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Usefulness of "What's This" help: From: Christopher Clunas

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