Saying "RTFM" out loud?

Subject: Saying "RTFM" out loud?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 06 Feb 2004 15:52:17 -0500

Steven Brown hypothesized: <<... that many people don't use online help because they simply don't know it exists or how to access it.>>

Someone at (I believe) the Chicago STC conference a few years ago reported that this is precisely what they discovered in a study of how people use online help. I coulda sworn it was Ginny Redish, but when I contacted her she agreed with the principle but said she wasn't the one who reported the results.

<<There are other reasons, too (such as shallow content, poorly organized content, etc.), but after watching third-party usability sessions at my former employer, I was suprised at just how many people didn't know how to access online help.
Those who did, couldn't confidently navigate its content... That said, how do we tackle this challenge?>>

These were also reported as serious problems, and particularly the problem of "well I've got the help system up and running, but now what do I do?" I solved this problem (or tried) in two ways:

<<When client or end-user training is conducted, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS (did I mention, always?) incorporate an extensive module about using online help.>>

That was my first solution. It worked for those who took our training, and the trainer was particularly pleased because training was only a job he hadn't managed to duck; the rest of the time he was doing tech support in addition to his real job, and hating the fact that people were complaining about things that were solved in the online help.

We actually worked together to come up with a quick, simple training exercise that forced the students to actually open the help file and use it to find information. (To avoid embarassment, nobody was asked whether they knew how to use the help: it was just presented as one of those things everyone needed to know.) Yes, that worked nicely.

My second solution was to include a section in the documentation entitled "How to use the online help". The introduction to the manual itself included the very prominent statement "this is just an overview of how the parts of the software fit together, what the parts of the workspace look like and do, and an overview of how you'd use the software to accomplish various tasks." I concluded that with a polite note to "RTFOH" <g> and cross-referenced the "how to RTFOH" section of the manual. This also worked nicely--for those who read the manual.

<<Of course that obliges us TWs to design help that truly is "wonderful" -- easy to access, well organized content, etc.>>

And of course I did that too, and everyone lived happily ever after. <g>

--Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)

Re: Saying "RTFM" out loud (was Everyday [was: Style question: "war d ial" ...: From: Steven Brown

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