Context-sensitive Help

Subject: Context-sensitive Help
From: RoseCrowe <ncrowe -at- PRIMENET -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 30 Jan 1995 23:37:59 -0700

Hey, techwhirlers:
We are involved in a bit of a controversy here and I would
appreciate all input.
We are creating help for a Windows application being developed
with PowerBuilder. We are writing the help using Robohelp. The
help files include How Tos (not tied into context sensitive help)
and help on the menus and windows in the program (tied into context
sensitive help). The menu/window level help shows a picture of
the application menu or window. On the window pictures, the user
can get field-level help in popups.
Our developers feel that our help systems are lagging in delivery
behind their applications. They believe that the time it takes
to recapture the windows pictures and tie in the field topics
is what makes us unable to complete the help system at the same
time they complete the application.
Their solution is to write field-level help and tie that in.
We tech writers do not believe that this will solve the problem.
We believe there will still be a lag time. We think that the
lag time will decrease as the product stabilizes. We also
do not think that the users will find field level help "helpful"
without windows-level help. We think the developers want us
to write database descriptions of the fields on the screen,
rather than supplying true process help. (BTW, you can jump
from the window level to the how to topics related to that window.)
Our help design was user-approved and developers also approved
it before we started writing.
There are a bunch of political issues surrounding this, but I
would mostly like feedback about field-level help vs. window-
level help and the use of graphics in help files. We are
willing to change our design, but we are not getting what
we consider a good alternative from the developers.
Do you have any suggestions? Have you found field-level
help helpful to the users? Are there materials out there
about Help design that will enlighten us as to what
users really want? Are there alternative solutions to
helping us keep up with the developers that we may propose?
Thanks in advance!

Rosie (NorthCrowe)
ncrowe -at- primenet -dot- com
rwilc -at- fast -dot- dot -dot- state -dot- az -dot- us
"Half an hour's meditation is essential except
when you are very busy. Then a full hour is needed."
-St. Francis De Sales

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