Re: WinHELP Philosophy

Subject: Re: WinHELP Philosophy
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 31 Jan 1996 13:45:00 EST

>While it's true that winhelp tends to be more hypertextual than linear, a
>user's manual is not necessarily a linear text. A novel is linear, but
>readers tend to bounce around in a technical document. Cross references,
>tables of contents, indexes: they are all paper-based hypertextual tools. A
>manual is not linear simply because it resides on paper rather than your
>computer's memory.

>Sorry to pick nits.
>James Lockard
>norton -at- mcs -dot- net

Allow me to pick them back for a moment. A manual is linear, not because it
has to be read in a linear order, but because it CAN BE. Its intrinsic
structure is a stack. Indexes and other search aids are to overcome the
limitations of the stack, not to create faux hypertext links.

The basic benefit of hypertext is that it can be designed with links that
only go to certain places, rather than letting the reader wander throughout
the work. Manuals-plunked-online suffer from the problem of straddling both
worlds...they don't organize things well, yet they permit the reader to
wander through the swamps at will.

Good hypertext doesn't permit such excursions. WinHelp, the Web, and other
hypertext environments require careful thought to execution and planning, to
keep the user from wandering. The user can be funneled in the direction we
want him to go, even to the point of giving him the illusion of freedom,
when in reality we're driving him onward.

It's not just a theoretical, ivory-tower difference. Paper docs can be
dismally organized, yet be marginally useable regardless. Hypertext can't. A
poor hypertext design might as well be ash-canned. Paper docs can rely to a
frightening degree on the experience and savvy of the reader, and that's why
so many users put up with so much bad documentation. In hypertext, this
isn't true. No amount of intuitive reading can overcome shoddy hypertext
linkages. Thus, more responsibility falls on the designer/writer than it
does in paper doc. That implies the need for more knowledge and experience.

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

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