Re: WinHELP Philosophy

Subject: Re: WinHELP Philosophy
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher -at- EXPERSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 30 Jan 1996 14:03:23 -0800

David_Dubin wrote:
>We are in the middle of developing Help for an in-house application and I have
>a question of those of you who have gone this route before. Simply, what do you
>feel that Help is, and what should one include in Help files?

>I have been taught (and believe) that Windows Help should not take the place of
>a user's manual and should not become simply an electronic version of the
>user's manual. Help is (or should be) that information a user needs immediately
>to solve a problem. Help is driven by topics (info chunks) and, since the
>WinHelp environment is interactive, the user can navigate to the depth of
>knowledge that is necessary to complete that task. Help is not a lineal
>environment, as a user's manual is, even an electronic user's manual.

You're right on, David. Help is there to provide "information on demand"
or "just-in-time learning". When the user access context-sensitive help
from a dialog box, they have a question in mind, usually "What is this
(dialog box/field)?" They need to know what information the program is
asking for. Your job, as the help author, is to anticipate the user's
question and answer it as succinctly as possible.

>Our philosophy is that most users who are stumped in an app will go directly to
>the Search button and look for information about the concept that they need,
>before they go to a Contents section or even a How To... section.

Yup, context-sensitive first, then search. Browse last and only if
what they're looking for hasn't appeard yet. A friend of mine on
utest does a lot of studies that involve online help. He says the
average user accesses online help for a minute or less at a time.
Not a lot of time to digest concepts, but plenty of time to find
out that the program wants time in a 24-hour format or that your
user name should match the name your e-mail post office uses.

(Since some think that "Hope this helps" is overused, I won't
say it, but I do.)

-Sue Gallagher
sgallagher -at- expersoft -dot- com

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