online/manual debate

Subject: online/manual debate
From: Tina Sansom <kms -at- PLAZA -dot- DS -dot- ADP -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 22 Sep 1994 08:15:20 -0700

Richard Mateosian said:

> Nobody has ever learned FrameMaker4 or Word6 or Photoshop3 or any
> other major package by reading the paper documentation supplied
r with it.

Karla (feeling argumentative today) McMaster said:

I beg to differ...I learned FrameMaker4 (I guess one could argue about how
_well_ I learned it) by trying things and looking up stuff in the manual. As
far as how much I know, I learned enough to convince me that it is a very
prowerful product...

I'd have to agree with Karla. I'm a happy Word 5.1a for the Mac user, and I've
done 90% or more of my learning from the paper manual. I've been trying to
analyze in my own head why I prefer the manual, and I think it comes down to
placement--knowing how much (visually, in thickness of paper sheets) of the
manual is devoted to a topic. In the manual, I can easily look up the
topic I want in the index, and systematically look up all the references
that are listed there, and know I've seen everything there is about the topic.
Usually I want to be sure I've seen everything because I'm mostly looking up
complicated things--headers across multiple sections, indexing, etc.

In online help (at least Word's version of it) I never seem to feel quite so
confident that I've seen everything about a particular topic--what have I
missed, that I just didn't find the links to? I don't think this is an
inherent problem of online help, but in the way it is set up in many systems.

There's an article in the most recent Journal of the STC about the use of a
graphical browser to aid in comprehension of the size and scope of an online
help system. A graphical browser is a sort of online road map, showing the
topics and links, an overall view of how big the online help system is and
where you have been in it. The results of the study in the STC article seem
to suggest that people have a better overall retention rate of information
and are more confident about finding that information again with the use
of a graphical browser.

Does anyone have experience with one of these? Thoughts? Opinions?

Tina Sansom "You see, it takes all the running you can do, to
kms -at- plaza -dot- ds -dot- adp -dot- com keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere
(503)294-4200 x2326 else, you must run at least twice as fast!"
--Lewis Carroll, _Through the Looking Glass_

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