RE: A Good Response to "No One Reads the Help Anyway"

Subject: RE: A Good Response to "No One Reads the Help Anyway"
From: "McLauchlan, Kevin" <Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>
To: <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>, "Yves JEAUROND" <jingting -at- rogers -dot- com>, <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2007 09:28:07 -0500

Ned B., alias doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com muttered something that sounded like:

> >One could add that Google's greatest disadvantage
> >in comparison to Help is that [good] Help tells you
> > where to start and when something is finished.
> > Google can go on and on and on and ...
> Ah, this is key! Help (and googling) often leave us bogged
> down working out a design for how to get something done,
> even when the task (as designed) actually has a clear but
> poorly documented beginning and end.
> The kind of loose ends we get when Help is poorly designed
> are not much better than googling as a form of Help. Still
> and all, googling * is* a revolutionary way to approach
> design tasks.

Some of us need to balance between stuff that "starts here and ends
here", and tasks that are pretty much open-ended. That can be the joy of
product that's directed at end-users, at integrators, and at "from
scratch" developers, simultaneously.
There's also the joy of documenting for a versatile product, meaning
that any given task might have one or two simple paths through it...
which a few customers might actually use ... or it might have
umpty-twelve additional paths, due to options that can be selected along
the way, and which all interact with each other.
For a while, I was making pages in the middle of my WebHelp that had
more decision-points than tasks/instructions per page.
"If you got here because you were doing this and you now intend to do
that, go here."
"If you got here because you were doing this other and you now intend to
do that other, go there."
"If you got here because ........."
Because you'd need to understand why you were making a choice, I'd have
to either explain the next bunch of options right there on the page
(which can get tedious if you're just looking for _your_ next step), or
I'd have to have the thing bristling with links, or I'd have the page be
90%+ of dropdown and expanding text.
There's also the problem of links in WebHelp pages:
If you are linking to the next page in a known sequence, your link opens
in the same window, because that's where the user needs to go next.
But, if the links are to various informational offshoots that the user
might need to investigate, before coming back to this current page and
making a decision where to go next, well there's the risk that the user
can get lost and not remember what step they were actually on (did I
_do_ this step, or was I just _about_ to do this step?) when they
started jumping around. So, of course you make the explanatory-stuff
links open in new windows... But wait, many people have that disabled in
their browsers, as a matter of personal or corporate policy.
So then, I tried making more variant paths, with limited branches _out_,
and limited branches _in_. Of course, that meant I had lots and lots of
almost-duplicate pages, which of course meant that I was growing myself
a maintenance nightmare.
Finally, I figured out what was the ideal way to accommodate those
conflicting requirements, and immediately wrote it down so I wouldn't
forget. Next morning, however, the notepad on my night-table held only
gibberish. Ahem.


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RE: A Good Response to "No One Reads the Help Anyway": From: McLauchlan, Kevin
RE: A Good Response to "No One Reads the Help Anyway": From: Yves JEAUROND
Re: A Good Response to "No One Reads the Help Anyway": From: doc

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