Re: Standards for pop-up definitions in online help

Subject: Re: Standards for pop-up definitions in online help
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 1996 15:02:00 EST

At 10:45 AM 9/18/96 -0400, you wrote:
>What, if any, are the standards for using pop-up definitions in an online
>help system? Specifically, if a term is repeated in multiple topics, do
>you use the pop-up in each topic where it occurs? Only in the first topic
>within a particular browse sequence? I know I should only use it on the
>first instance within a topic, but beyond that I'm unsure of the
>approach since there is no real linear flow through a help system -- you
>don't know the user's exact entry point, so it's hard to determine the first
>instance of anything.

In WinHelp there aren't any "standards," but there are common practices. One
common practice is to use a popup link for the first instance in any topic,
but not for every instance within the topic. That's wasteful and confusing
to the user, who might conclude that there's something new to be found in
the fourth instance of a glossaried word. However, if you're popping up
glossary items, the same popup should be available in every topic where it
appears. As you say, you can't usually force-feed a path through the topics.

>Also, is there a maximum of popups one should use per
>topic (for different terms)? I've heard with regular jumps that one should
>try to stay below five to seven jumps in a topic.

Nah, this sounds like Millerisms creeping back into the group. If anything,
that's a rule of thumb that may not fit on every hand. Personally, I find
lists of "see alsos" confusing and indicative of poor organization, or at
least poor anticipation of my needs. It puts too much onus on the user, in
my opinion, and lets the designer get off cheap. Win95 helps out a lot with
that by featuring A and K keywords that let you customize a "see also" list
according to the moment's need.

In preference to the scrolls of "see alsos" I'd rather see the "see alsos"
grouped into sensible categories and then featured in a secondary contents
window. It gives me a better set of cues into the file's organizational pattern.

Rather than sweat how many jumps to give out, I counsel clients to think of
help file design as a spectrum, with Maximum User Responsibility at one end
and Maximum Designer Responsibility at the other, like this:

Maximum Designer Responsibility ---------------------------------Maximum
User Responsibility

Now pick your spot on that line. At the left are few full text searches,
lots of organizational helps, and popup design that may seem simple-minded
to the elite user. At the other end there are full text searches, full
access to everything, and no attempt to group anything. That's how power
users tend to like it, creating their own paths to the relevant information.

Canvass your readership and pick a spot on the line. That will tell you how
to structure your links.

Tim Altom
Vice President, Simply Written, Inc.
317.899.5882 (voice) 317.899.5987 (fax)
FrameMaker support ForeHelp support
FrameMaker-to-HTML Conversions

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