Re: When do people consult documentation?

Subject: Re: When do people consult documentation?
From: Elna Tymes <etymes -at- LTS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 16 Jan 1997 12:26:57 -0800

Kim Keegan wrote:
> I included one question that asked them to rank in order 1-3 what they would do if
> they had a question about how to use an application. The choices were (1)look in the
> manual; (2)use the on-line help; (3)ask someone else.
> Two-thirds would first ask someone else for help before consulting the application's
> documentation, thereby admitting that they do not know something, and going against
> Phil's statement.

We've been collecting data for several years to support a working
hypothesis that when people are given a new package and they run into a
problem, they do the following things, more or less in order:

1. Try to figure it out by experimenting with the program itself, using
some practical example that has meaning to them.
2. When that fails, ask a friend.
3. IF they have previously used online Help systems and found them
useful, AND IF they know that there is one for this package, they will
turn to the online Help.
4. Pick up the phone. Go to the local Help desk, if there is one, or
go to the package's Help line. Even if it's Microsoft or Novell.
5. If they've had any formal training in the package, they'll go to
their training notes.
6. Pick up the manual and look through the index and table of contents
for meaningful topics. (Note -- this does not necessarily mean they'll
skim the manual.)
7. If they didn't quickly find useful information in the manual, they
will go to the local bookstore and try to find a third-party book that
looks like it will explain the package better to them.

We know of one numbers-based study currently under way at a university
that is looking at how people use online Help vs. manuals. We'll let
you know when we get the results.

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems

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