Context Sensitive Help?

Subject: Context Sensitive Help?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, cupton -at- syclone -dot- net
Date: Tue, 06 Jun 2006 16:55:47 -0400

Carolyn wonders: <<Our web application comes standard with RoboHelp's WebHelp for online help. We have a customer who is requiring context sensitive help. Our users are typically novice to intermediate computer users, and in my experience rarely use the online help. The application is pretty easy, and they always get on site training and user guides. I'm trying to convince Sales that the context sensitive help does not add enough value to justify the extra effort. We would not recover any additional costs over the cost of the regular WebHelp.>>

I haven't created WebHelp, but at least with WinHelp, there was never much extra effort involved in making the help context-sensitive. As I created the Help topics, I gave each a Help ID, and when I was done, I simply passed the map file to the developers and they linked it into their software. It did take us a bit of time to incorporate and test the links, but not a significant amount of time for the size of software we were creating. Is the WebHelp interface so different?

In terms of users not using the Help, I largely solved that problem by asking our trainer to spend 5 minutes demonstrating the Help system. If you're doing on-site training, why not do the same?

Does it really add value? Not if it's poorly implemented. I've often clicked the Help button in various commercial programs and not revealed any useful help related to my current context (usually a dialog box). But that's a design flaw, not an inherent problem with the concept of context-sensitive help. Are your index and search engine good enough that context-sensitivity adds little in terms of efficiency for the user? If so, then perhaps there's not much to be gained from making the Help context-sensitive. But me, I like my help as context-sensitive as possible. When it's well-designed, it's a great comfort to me, and I curse the techwhirlers who created it a bit less than usual. <g>

Better still, I'd like to see embedded help. But that's a whole other challenge.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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Context Sensitive Help: From: cupton

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