Re: Winhelp as Training

Subject: Re: Winhelp as Training
From: Graham Tillotson <graham -at- MEGSINET -dot- NET>
Date: Mon, 2 Mar 1998 17:36:27 -0600

I too read the article "Where is the Instruction in Online
Help Systems," and my reaction is one of disappointment,
primarily from an academic perspective. A quick look at
Pratt's sources highlights a trend that I find rather
annoying in research on online documentation: a full 11/14
of her sources are from the early to mid 1980s, which makes
the argument too easy to setup. The introduction cites
literature from the mid-1980s to point out how technical and
inaccessible online help systems can be, and then the author
goes on to illustrate what online help could be with some
instructional design thrown in.

I guess I am tired of seeing researchers cite "landmark"
works on hypertext and online help when environments of the
1980s (DOS, Win 3.1, Lynx) have given way to much more
dynamic formats and technologies (WinHelp 4, HTML help,
VRML, etc.) that render much of the older discussions mute.
It is an easy strawman to setup and then knock down, this
comparison of online documentation of the 1980s to that in
1998.

My criticism is not meant to dilute the importance of
Pratt's fundamental question, which is how to integrate
online help and training documentation. I am about to start
yet another project where I come to this very question (yet
again), and as always I must address the question in light
of new technologies, operating systems, and user skills. It
is a hard question to answer, and so when colleagues and
academics go after it in search of some resolution I would
like to see research that is conducted with a high degree of
discipline and attention to detail.

Graham Tillotson
graham -at- megsinet -dot- net

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