Re: Writing for on-line

Subject: Re: Writing for on-line
From: David Knopf <david -at- KNOPF -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 18 Feb 1998 09:01:05 -0800

Jessica N. Lange wrote:

> >Jane Bergen wrote
> >
> >Also, with online, there is no concept of grouping categories unless you
> >plan out your online topics to make use of the Browse buttons, although
> >in fact (a fact I regret!) most of the new online help offerings seem to
> >be eliminating Browse features altogether.
> I am working on my first online help (after years of paper manuals), and
> have struggled with Browse sequences (to have or not to have).
> As Jane notes, they're absent from most of the help files I've looked at,
> and I've not understood why. Does anyone know why Browse sequences are
> considered unnecessary? Are they not helpful? Do users not use them?

Browse sequences and browse buttons were originally designed to simulate the
experience of flipping through the pages of a book. Usability testing showed
that: (a) they were infrequently used; (b) users rarely seek a linear path
through online help but rather want to zero in on the answer to a particular
question; (c) users often got lost in browse sequences.

Other issues include: (a) implementing browse sequences well (i.e., a
separate path for each group of related topics) is very time-consuming both in
development and maintenance; (b) if you are using multiple secondary windows,
as many good help designs do, browse buttons cause topics to appear in the
"wrong" window (correctable through WinHelp macros, but again that means more
development time).

Finally, today's new Windows users may never see a browse button. I think
you'll find it difficult to find one in the Windows help or the Office 95 or
97 help. Coming to your help system, then, many users may not, in fact, know
what the browse buttons are for.

> I've always liked 'em and consider those little arrow buttons to be an
> invitation to explore. I note that many web sites make use of the concept,
> whether by using arrow buttons or Next/Previous text; and of course the
> browser itself has built-in "browse sequence buttons".

Sorry but very few people will ever "explore" your help file. And those
buttons in your Web browser have a very different function than browse buttons
in a help system. In a browser, Next and Previous let the user move back and
forth through a set of pages they have already visited, not through a linear
path defined by the Web designer.

Don't get me wrong. Browse buttons have a place. They can be helpful in
creating a "Quick Start Guide" or other tutorial. However, for the typical
software application help system, I don't think it's worth the trouble to
implement them throughout.

Two cents? I'm afraid I'm overbudget already.

-- David Knopf

David Knopf
Knopf Online
Tel: 415-820-2356
E-mail: david -at- knopf -dot- com

Writing * WinHelp * Web Sites * Training * Consulting
RoboHELP Certified Trainer * RoboHELP Certified Consultant

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