Re: How Real People Use Online Help

Subject: Re: How Real People Use Online Help
From: Lubo Cipin <lcipin -at- PAL -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 30 Aug 1996 11:22:39 -0400

The chapter on User Documentation in Deborah Mayhew's excellent book called "Principles and Guidelines in Software User Interface Design" (Prentice Hall, 1992) includes an 11 page "On-line Help: Experimental Studies" section followed by a 4 page "On-line Help: Principles and Guidelines" section. The latter consists of an elaboration of the following principles and guidelines:

1. Make help visible: "advertise"
2. Make it complete and accurate
3. Provide multiple access methods
4. Organize help around user tasks and goals
5. Provide different levels of detail under user control
6. Provide powerful but easy to learn and use navigational aids
7. Write at the appropriate reading level
8. Provide a well-designed visual layout
9. Use windowing
10. Make it simple and easy to return to the problem context
11. Make it fast
12. Make it user modifiable
13. Make tutorials interactive
14. Make it active ("suggestions")
15. Make it consistent in style
16. Follow general guidelines for interface design and documentation design

Obviously you may not want or be able to follow all of these, nor necessarily agree with them all. Note, though, that throughout the book the author attempts to put forward only those principles and guidelines supported both by experimental studies and by theoretical research. I hope this is of help.

Lubo Cipin

lcipin -at- pal -dot- com
Portfolio Analytics, Toronto
---
David Janus wrote:

Does anyone know of any research that has been done/articles that have been
written dealing with how people _really_ use online help guides? I'm also
interested in any practical tips for writing help guides based on such research.

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