RE: Providing workflow orientation cues in topics?

Subject: RE: Providing workflow orientation cues in topics?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 9 Oct 2001 08:55:15 -0400

Rowena Hart wondered: <<I'm creating a help system... If users call help
from a screen, a topic will be displayed that
explains how to complete the task on that screen. I would like to provide a
visual or written cue in the topic that identifies where the screen-specific
procedure fits into the larger workflow. I've been toying with the following
layout:
Cash Management and Forecasting: *Banking* > Reconciliation > Cash
Forecasting... where the user's position in the workflow is highlighted.>>

This seems to be a standard means of indicating where someone is within a
_hierarchy_ (cf. Web pages created with NetObjects Fusion), thus it might be
misleading to also use it in indicating the position in a _sequence_.

<<Can anyone suggest alternatives?>>

In online materials, we're always advised that brevity is important, so
adding more text to explain the position in the hierarchy likely isn't a
very good idea. That being the case, something like an image map might work
very well: the map would show the sequence of steps (numbered and
hyperlinked) at the left, with the current step highlighted and the text
that explains the step appearing to the right of the graphic; clicking on
any of the steps at left takes you to that step, which is displayed
similarly. This approach won't work well for moderately or really long
sequences (the graphics get too long and complex). Another approach that
works more generally might be very simply to add a link at the end of the
topic: "Other steps in this task". Clicking on the link takes you to a
miniature table of contents (perhaps in its own new browser window so it
remains continuously available) that lists the entire series of steps. If
the current step is clearly named, you probably don't have to highlight it
in the list, though that would be useful if you could figure out how to do
it elegantly. One way might be to use a named destination within the table
of contents so you could jump to the appropriate position within the list;
the fact that the scroll bar would be midway down the window and the number
of the step would be midway through the sequence should be enough evidence
that the topic begins before the current step.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
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