Where's the beginning? (was RE: When to Spell Out Acronyms)

Subject: Where's the beginning? (was RE: When to Spell Out Acronyms)
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, mlist -at- safenet-inc -dot- com
Date: Tue, 21 Nov 2006 11:25:37 -0500

Kevin wondered: <<On the issue of spelling out acronyms upon first occurrence or in a place that readers are most likely to see 'em... This, of course, got me to wondering what's the best approach in Help. We've pretty much been dropping paper and PDF documents in favor of Help. Mostly WebHelp. So, where's the beginning of Help?>>

The procedure often used in symposium proceedings, journals, and other multi-author works may help: each paper or chapter is considered an independent document, and acronyms are spelled out again in each. In a Help system, that suggests doing this in each discrete topic. Since that gets messy, particularly for short topics:

<<I _could_ spell out acronyms in hidden-til-you-click dynamic html expanding or drop-down text... but since a person can enter Help at any point, that would mean putting expansions behind (under? around?) virtually every occurrence of an acronym. That would make my Help pages even patchier than they are now. Eek!>>

One solution is to minimize your use of acronyms. That's generally wise for a nontechnical audience in any event. A compromise solution is to add a "Glossary" link at the top of every Help screen so that readers can always get to the list of acronyms with a single click. Of course, not all will see this link or use it, but it may be an acceptable compromise.

Providing a popup definition for every acronym is an interesting thought, since it would make the computer do the work for the user, instead of vice versa, but that would clutter the document. You don't necessarily want a popup for every technical term, after all, though it might be a useful approach. Certainly, it's something I haven't seen discussed from the perspective of the point at which you overwhelm the user with links.

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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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Where's the beginning? (was RE: When to Spell Out Acronyms): From: mlist

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