Re: What should my Help do?

Subject: Re: What should my Help do?
From: Julie Barker <julie -at- HARSTON -dot- CV -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 14 Apr 1994 17:23:23 +0000

lffunkhouser -at- HALNET -dot- COM asks about what to include in help.

>> The software team is not thrilled about the screen captures. They
>> think it will slow down the help and make users not use the help.

Why use screen captures when the user already has the real thing in
front of her when she presses the help key? Our old paper documentation
used to have *a lot* of screendumps of bits of the user interface -
dialogs, menus, etc. This is useful when the user is reading the
document away from the computer screen.

However, with online documentation (and what we have done is really put
all our paper books online, not written much brand new, designed-for
online delivery stuff) we decided to lose the screendumps where
possible for the following reasons:

1. If it is online you can assume the user is sitting in front of the
screen, with the bit of the user interface (dialog, menu, whatever)
in question on the screen in front of her. So why show a picture of
it as well? It is (a) redundant information, (b) an
additional overhead on the writer to have to keep the screendumps up
to date every time a label changes or a field is lengthened. Also
increases the size of the source (Interleaf) files considerably.

2. If you show a screendump of the piece of UI, you worry the user if
what she sees on pressin ghte Help key is not EXACTLY the same. Our
software is very customizable, indeed this is a key feature of it.
So the user might be using something that looks rather different
from the pictures on the screen.

3. The software we are using to distribute & view our online docs is
Interleaf's WorldView. Any bitmap images that are resized (smaller
or larger) are extremely poorly represented on the screen in
Worldview. This is a limitation which Interleaf are working on.
Also Worldview 1.1 doesn't support greyscales, so the dumps have to
be mono or they are useless.

4. Many parts of the user interface (dialogs, menus, etc) are re-used
over and over throughout the product. The same dialog (for example,
File Open/Save) pops up with minor variations in several places.
By not including pictures of the objects everywhere, we avoid
unnecessary duplication, saving on disk space and updating overheads.

The arguments listed above are a mixture of making life easier for our
users (making the online docs more usable) and making life easier for
the writers. We aim to please...

Julie Barker * Project Tech Writer * julie -at- harston -dot- cv -dot- com
Computervision Ltd, Harston Mill, Harston, Cambridge CB2 5NH, UK

>> Eat healthy, stay fit, die anyway <<

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