WinHelp 95 help approach

Subject: WinHelp 95 help approach
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Sun, 21 Jan 1996 11:15:00 EST

I just got my new Pentium with 95 on it and I've been playing with the new
help files that come with the system. They're fundamentally different in
approach, of course, from the 3.X files that preceded them. One of the
bigger differences is the minimalist approach.

The minimalist approach reduces or eliminates wordy sections of help files,
assuming that the user has popped up help for stepwise coaching, not for
long-winded explanations. There are few conceptual explanations in 95. There
are lots of steps. This is a major break with Microsoft's philosophy in the
past, which balanced steps and explanation. Apparently the user should now
open the manual if he wants a longer discussion.

I have to say that the minimalist approach appeals to me for future software
projects. Users seem to like it because it answers their immediate needs and
they don't need to scroll as often. Still, I know others won't appreciate
the lack of explanatory text, thinking that the steps aren't much good
without understanding why or what the steps are meant to do. My take on it
is that in most cases the user, at the point of clicking "help," is
crotch-deep in binary crocodiles and doesn't want or need concepts. He wants
a way over the bump.

Still, I'm sure there are times even in software help when concepts are
desirable. And in other applications of help, I know they are. We use a help
file as a corporate brochure, for example, and I'd say conceptual matter was
vital there.

Anybody got input on when the minimalist approach should be minimized?

Tim Altom
Vice President
Simply Written, Inc.
Technical Documentation and Training
Voice 317.899.5882
Fax 317.899.5987

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