Re: Opinions about AuthorIt

Subject: Re: Opinions about AuthorIt
From: Chris Despopoulos <cud -at- telecable -dot- es>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 23 Jun 2004 11:06:13 -0700

Is there any authority who claims reference information cannot be properly placed in online help?

Of course I haven't exhausted the literature, but when I was involved in the ground-up design of a help system (as part of an overall doc set), I never encountered the statement - and yes, we looked at the research. (This was a while ago... Sorry, no citations available in my feeble brain.) In fact, our design wound up making the help system into *the* reference docs - we had instructions to drop the printed ref manual, so we figured the ref info could go in Help. We thought of Help as the product dictionary, the User's Guide as Strunk & White (or Chicago Manual of Style???), and a Quick Ref card as a collection of rules like, "I before E except after C...".
The gist of the literature I'm aware of is simple. Help is where you go when you need, well, help. So it should be short on the conceptual models, and should get the user productive ASAP. That means it needs the right information, and the most direct access to it possible. Nowhere in there do I see room for a blanket statement such as, "Help must always be procedural" or "Help must always have X category of information."
A simple example. FrameMaker help includes a list of shortcuts to enter goofy characters. Nothing procedural there. But I'd personally flame Adobe if it wasn't there. When I need to get a non-breaking hyphen into a dialog box, I want to do it quickly. I go to Help, and I expect to find it. When I need help, I personally don't run through the theories of what Help should be, and then map that exercise to my carefully constructed model of the doc set, and deduce which piece should have the info I need - according to theory. I go to Help.

I entered my reference-based help system in an STC competition. The judges panned it categorically. "Where's the procedural information?" they all said. So you can ignore all of the above.


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