RE: inline links (Re: Online help access question)

Subject: RE: inline links (Re: Online help access question)
From: <mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com>
To: "'TechWR-L'" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 4 Oct 2016 07:48:27 -0400

Different levels of user are actually one of the key reasons to use links. Document-based thinking says that the user is at a given level and that the entire document must be pitched to a person at that level. And since, as you say, it is seldom possible to create separate documents for each of the levels you encounter, some form of compromise is required. But whatever form of compromise it is, the result is a document that is longer than it need be for the expert and shorter than it need be for the novice, and more complex to navigate for both.



But with a hypertext system you shouldnât think of the audience as being at a particular level. Rather, you think of them as being in the process of changing levels. Each topic they read in a hypertext allows them to change their level. If they arrive at a topic that is at a level they are not ready for, links in that topic from its key actions and ideas to topics on those actions and ideas, allow the reader to change to an appropriate level, which then allows them to raise their level to where they need it to be.



The resulting information set is not a compromise between the needs of people at different levels. It is a place in which readers can find their level and then raise themselves to the desired level by an appropriate traversal of the information set.



What is important about this is not just that the information set is not a compromise, but also that is does not artificially constrict user levels to artificial an largely meaningless labels like novice, intermediate, and expert. Each personâs level is a function of that they know and understand and that is different for everyone. A well designed hypertext information set allows each user to find their own level based on what they know and what they need to learn, and to proceed from there along the course that makes sense for them (and perhaps no on else).



If we stick to document-based thinking, we will struggle to understand the role of links. When we switch to hypertext thinking, the role and value of links becomes obvious. The need to pitch an information set at different levels of users is actually on of the places where the virtue of hypertext thinking is most apparent.



Mark



From: Kathleen MacDowell [mailto:kathleen -dot- eamd -at- gmail -dot- com]
Sent: Monday, October 3, 2016 4:57 PM
To: Robin Whitmore <rwhitmore -at- weebly -dot- com>
Cc: Mark Baker <mbaker -at- analecta -dot- com>; TechWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Subject: Re: inline links (Re: Online help access question)



The level of user is always there to consider. It's best if you can set up separate materials for each level, but that's rarely possible. What I've done in the past, for complex situations, is provide an overview of steps so that people can go to the necessary section, whether they're novices or experts. Section headers make it easy to make it clear. If it's electronic, one could link to each section.



Note that I'm referring to complex situations with steps, not to general types of documents.



Re links: I'm not totally against them. But there are situations I wouldn't use them--I'd make sure the relevant info was spelled out where necessary.



Kathleen





On Mon, Oct 3, 2016 at 2:13 PM, Robin Whitmore <rwhitmore -at- weebly -dot- com <mailto:rwhitmore -at- weebly -dot- com> > wrote:

Kathleen,



I'm wondering how then you would account for different levels of users. Beginners will likely need more information and as they get more comfortable, less and less. This is the beauty of links. You don't have to click them if you don't need them. But if you start including ALL content that might be needed under every circumstance, the doc gets much to wordy to be useful, especially for more experienced users. While you might solve this with expand/collapse widgets, people will always click them if they're collapsed (they want to see what's hidden), and many users will need to collapse them if they're always open, which is an extra click and interrupts their flow.



Links are basically harmless. They are short, and by now not something that causes readers to stop, as we are all accustomed to them, and they allow those who (for now) need more info to go get what they need.



As for definitions and the like, IMHO the best UX is a popup with a definition, unless more complex conceptual information is needed.



Also, I'm wondering what you feel the difference is between an "old-fashioned" See cross-reference and a link? In my mind, they serve the same purpose, and a link is much more efficient and less obtrusive.



Enjoying this discussion-

Robin

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References:
RE: inline links (Re: Online help access question): From: mbaker
Re: inline links (Re: Online help access question): From: Kathleen MacDowell
RE: inline links (Re: Online help access question): From: mbaker
Re: inline links (Re: Online help access question): From: Kathleen MacDowell
Re: inline links (Re: Online help access question): From: Robin Whitmore
Re: inline links (Re: Online help access question): From: Kathleen MacDowell

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