Re: Data on who uses Help?

Subject: Re: Data on who uses Help?
From: aschiff -at- factset -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 25 Mar 2002 14:05:30 -0500

First off, I'm going to concur with Geoff Hart on this one -- it doesn't
really matter who *generally* uses help; you're only interested in the
users of your software, correct? Are those users are 22-year-old Web
developers, or 95-year-old Web-surfin' Grandmas? Know your audience.

As for "advanced" help - I really believe that this is an underdeveloped
area in online help. Another techwrl-er opined that new users need
step-by-step instructions. Well, I'd agree, but I'd go so far as to say
that advanced users often need the same thing.

The difference is that there's a fairly finite set of possible tasks that a
basic user might want to accomplish, whereas advanced users may be pushing
the limits of your software and you have no idea what the heck they might
be doing -- hence, it's more difficult to provide help for them. Think of
concentric circles -- the smallest one, in the center, represents basic
users. Each ensuing circle is larger. It's a lot harder to capture
everything in, say, the 5th circle out, than it is to document the
innermost circle. And unless you live in Bizzarro-World, you have deadlines
to meet and can't spend months doing needs analysis & figuring out which
advanced tasks to document.

Speaking from my own experience as a fairly advanced end-user in Macromedia
Flash, I really like what they've done:

* Their online help is fairly basic for the task-based material, but also
includes more advanced reference material (i.e., a glossary of all
available functions.)
* Their website contains a knowledgebase that runs the gamut -- from basic
troubleshooting, to advanced tips & tricks, to intermediate & advanced
"scenarios" with step-by-step annotations and downloadable files to go with

I can't speak for Macromedia, but I'm guessing that by deploying the
intermediate/advanced scenario-based material via their Website, they can
update it more frequently and not be constrained by release dates when
developing that material. (Perhaps they cull ideas from their online
community discussions or their help-desk, then release it bit by bit.)

Here's an example of what I'm talking about:

Hope this helps,

Abby Schiff
FactSet Research Systems

PC Magazine gives RoboHelp Office 2002 five stars - a perfect score!
"The ultimate developer's tool for designing help systems. A product
no professional help designer should be without." Check out RoboHelp at

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