RE: Help help

Subject: RE: Help help
From: mlist -at- safenet-inc -dot- com
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Tue, 4 Apr 2006 16:51:48 -0400

John Garison [mailto:john -at- garisons -dot- com] noted:


> But of there's one key idea that you need to get your head around, I
> suggest it's this: Links are free. If you create a whole
> bunch of topics
> that, when taken together, provide all the information necessary to
> describe the application, you are then free to create a
> series of other
> pages that provide links to these topics. As a result, you can provide
> role-based, experience-based, chronological, or hierarchical
> organizations that all consist of links to the individual topic pages.
> Within the topic pages themselves, you should link to related
> topics to
> make it easy for users to read and jump around in whatever fashion
> appeals to them.

I've encountered "Help" like that. Every time I try to actually
find an explanation or instruction for something specific that
I really, really need, I land on the damn description page.
I'm looking for a specific thing, a specific instruction, a
specific solution to the problem that I'm having right now,
and I keep circling through all these links and keywords that
keep dropping me back into the same few unhelpful pages. Aaargh!

If the answer to most questions and non-standard usage problems
is: Quit now, you're screwed anyway
then tell me that. Please don't dump me into the "all links
lead to the same 10 pages" equivalent of voice-mail hell.

That said, my first Help iteration for a new product might
have some of that, but after it's been in use for a while
and we've accumulated some questions and complaints and
use-cases, I try to have specific pages that answer specific
questions and cover what real customers have tried to do.
The cross-linking from _those_ pages is back to the more
general instruction, as well as to the descriptive concept
pages and to the command-syntax and reference pages... and if
I'm dilligent, all those pages eventually also have links
_to_ the growing array of specific and peculiar and less-often
used pages.

In some cases, I might have material repeated on a few pages,
using slightly different words or assumptions, in hopes that
a different way of saying/describing something will resonate
with a reader who might be from a different background or
market than the one(s) we originally envisioned.

For example, most of the descriptions and examples might
have related to (say) government data security, identification
and non-repudiation, but we start selling to big EFT customers.
They don't relate to the government-ish references, so I give
them examples or explanations using terms and scenarios from
the banking and clearing-house world.

Sometimes I might be creating almost redundant pages, for
people from different backgrounds to DO something. Other times,
I might have created alternate descriptions or drop-downs or
pop-ups to let whole classes of customers know that they
can ignore this or that command, or Admin/Maintenance procedure,
because, while the appliance supports a function, it doesn't
really apply to how they (the particular user group) use
the product.


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