Re: Online help and the elimination of the printed doc

Subject: Re: Online help and the elimination of the printed doc
From: k k <turnleftatnowhere -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 16 Jan 2004 14:49:17 -0800 (PST)

> I am proposing a significant reduction in the
> printed documentation, coupled to incorporating a
> significant increase in the volume and detail of the
> online help. The current online help is mostly a
> re-hash of the info from the printed doc, useful,
> but... yuck.

Sounds like a project I worked on years ago. The VP of
engineering wanted the help entirely online to reduce
printing costs.

> We would provide per-screen help that would offer
> comprehensive information on the tasks for that
> screen, as well as providing access to a TOC, index,
> and search functionality. We have recently
> implemented a new UI standard, so I would also
> provide control-level help - a succinct explanation
> of each control's purpose along with the valid
> values, etc. I would also undertake to thoroughly
> annotate the configuration files.

I recommend a lot of cross-references from the feature
pages to the procedural pages. For each screen, tell
the users what the screen does, and give them a quick
way to find information on the tasks performed through
that screen.

Unless each screen has only one function, it would be
useful to have some sort of relation of interface
screens to task flows. Maybe a table that lists tasks
in one column, and shows the screens in access order
in another column. A tree graphic would be even better
if the task flows don't involve too many screens.

If you have good screen-level help, I think
control-level help wouldn't really be all that useful.
I assume that screen-level help provides information
on each control, just in a different form. I'd say
make sure the screen help is clear and save the effort
of doing control-level.

> My main concern is that there is a good deal of
> conceptual information that the user must understand
> in order to be able to use the product as part of a
> comprehensive security plan, and it just doesn't
> seem appropriate to put this material into the help.
> I've always been an advocate of relegating that type
> of info to the printed docs, and keeping the help
> focused on task-based instructions.

The conceptual information has to be in there
somewhere, print or online. I recommend going ahead
and putting the concept information online and
providing links to it where necessary. I figure if
you're going to go online, go all the way. At this
point I can't think of a good reason for not putting
everything online. And if the conceptual pages are
still in print, the user may lose them, but if they're
online with everything else he can always reach them.

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Online help and the elimination of the printed doc: From: Daniel_Hall

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