Re: Results of "Tool" survey

Subject: Re: Results of "Tool" survey
From: Deborah Meltzer <deborah -at- STARQUEST -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 15 Nov 1996 15:40:35 PST

>While it's great that any competent person like yourself can now grab a help
>authoring tool and immediately develop a help system, there is more to the
>design of a system than these tools display. It's like the controversy
>between a manual and automatic transmission in a car: spirit vs.
>convenience. If you're never going to stretch the envelope or concern
>yourself with subtle design issues (which address at a fundamental level the
>system under the tool), use the automatic transmission and cruise control.
>But I have found it useful to learn and to teach folks about how a WinHelp
>system works without the superimposition of a tool, because when they have a
>fundamental knowledge they are much more appreciative of the benefits - and
>limitations - of tools.

>Chris Thiessen
>christopher -dot- e -dot- thiessen -at- cdev -dot- com

Hi Chris! I agree with you completely that the ideal is to learn everything
you can about how to drive stick as well as automatic before starting to
drive (which is actually how I learned to drive) to bring more control, more
grace, and more art to those twists and turns that are involved when driving
the various terrain and road conditions of any help system. If you haven't
driven very much yet and learned the subtleties of the multiple scenarios
awaiting you as well as received mentoring of some kind from those who have
gone before you, you are very likely to not exercise skillful judgment about
when to step on the brake, get out of cruise control, and use the
accumulated wisdom of instinct and experience you've gained to maneuver the
road as smoothly and craftily as possible. (OK, I'm done with the metaphors

After having worked on help systems for a little over a year and a half
since the previously mentioned premature plunge into the Winhelp world, and
after having stretched the envelope pretty far in some real interesting
areas (with a few nice results every now and then I might *modestly* add!)
your point is very well taken that the tools themselves do not a
well-designed help system make.

But the right methodology for the right job usually depends upon the context
the job must be performed in as well as what the job itself consists of. And
I have found that some of us fall into the world of online help systems
without the luxury of having the time or resources to gain some fundamental
knowledge first. There is something to be said for tools that can aid a
writer in this kind of crisis -- and without a tool like Forehelp, that's
what my situation would have been. Additionally, because it was designed by
people who had a fairly good roadmap for the help system terrain, it enabled
me to learn some important design lessons while on the ride. These lessons
were not initially as large in scope or as subtle in implication as the kind
you are talking about. But tools can teach you a lot about help systems if
they: (1) make it easy enough for you to (2) create something that works
well enough for you to (3) be able to play with it enough to (4) slowly
improve upon the design (writers-I offer that sentence to your skillful

Deborah Meltzer
StarQuest Software, Inc.
email: deborah -at- starquest -dot- com
voice: 510/704-2554

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