Encouraging users to read online help?

Subject: Encouraging users to read online help?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2001 11:52:52 -0500

Michelle Deeprose reports: <<I have taken a look at the archives for ways of
encouraging users to use online help but has anybody got any tried and
tested suggestions? I have publicised the help within the business,
encouraged support and training staff to refer to it, but the users are
stubbornly refusing to use it and come to the Helpdesk as their first port
of call when they can't work out to use the software.>>

There's a famous maxim that relates to this dilemma: "You can lead a horse
to water, but you can't make it think." <g> The problem we face as designers
of online help is that users have learned the stereotype that "online help"
is an oxymoron, and they might as well not bother using it and just call our
support lines. Even when the online help _is_ well-designed and truly
helpful (very rare in my experience), it's human nature to prefer talking to
the wizard down the hall rather than consulting the help system. The only
way to force our audience to use the help file is to discontinue the
technical support department and create a user interface that's so hostile
even the wizard down the hall can't use the software without leaning heavily
on the online help--and neither is a particularly good strategy for
corporate survival. About the only thing we can really do is make the help
more a part of the interface, and improve the interface design, so that
users never know they're using the online help; this is (in part) the
philosophy behind embedded help.

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

"Online help? We doan need no steenkeen' online help!"

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