What help? (was RE: Help on Procedure Writing

Subject: What help? (was RE: Help on Procedure Writing
From: KMcLauchlan -at- chrysalis-its -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 5 Dec 2001 11:48:51 -0500

I've always thought that, in general, "What is?" help
is one of the more poorly implemented modes of user
assistance. This has been true (in my experience) to
a spectacular extent in Linux apps, but also in many
Windows apps as well. It's especially galling when
the online "help" is not much more useful. (You know
you're in trouble when the help Index doesn't have
your keyword, nor any synonym you can think of.)

A special place in hell should be reserved for developer/
writers who copy the button name or the field name into
the "What is?" text for a button or field.

When I click the old question mark and then click on
an element of the current user interface, I do it because
there's something I don't understand. I need a text box
to tell me IN DIFFERENT WORDS!!! what the indicated button
or field is, and also WHY I might want to select/fill-in
this item. If there are options or constraints, then the
"What is?" text should either TELL me what they are, or
refer me explicitly -- a working hot link would be nice --
to the expanded explanation.

I click the question mark in the title bar of the current
window, and the mouse pointer changes to become a question
mark. I move the altered mouse pointer to the "Framistan"
field and click. Up pops "Input the required framistan info here".
Huh? That's ALL you're going to tell me? I curse all your
ancestors (never mind your decendents, apparently they're
cursed enough already...) What-in-heck IS a "framistan"?
What are the valid choices? How would I know? Where would I look?

Sure, I might be able to find out with another hour of
poring through web sites, or trying to find document files,
but as a USER who is setting up this program maybe ONCE
in my entire life, I'd really, really like to have POINTERS
and shortcuts to that kind of knowledge. Why in the world
should I have to take pages of hand-written notes just so
I can get an application (and its drivers, and ...) installed
and working?

Oh, drat! This was a rant, wasn't it? Sorry...


> Online help - what kind? Context-sensitive,
> stand-alone, what's this style? Again, and
> specifically for help, you want to only explain that
> which the user needs help with and nothing else
> (though links to more related information are
> helpful). So if it's "what do I put in this field" you
> tell them what goes in there and how. If it's "what
> does this button do" then you matter-of-fact-ly
> describe what it does and when to use it. If it's
> "what the heck is this screen doing here/asking for,
> or why is it here" then you feed them that info.

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