Opinions on Embedded Help?

Subject: Opinions on Embedded Help?
From: Matthew Stern <MAStern -at- PLATSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 9 Mar 1999 09:31:01 -0800

Regarding David Castro's questions about embedded help:

>I'm including embedded help in the next release of the software I'm
>writing, and wanted to see what others on the list thought of this "new"

I also went to the WinWriters Conference and attended Cheryl Lockett Zubak's
excellent post-conference session on embedded help. There were a few things
I saw:

In theory, embedded help sounds like an excellent idea. A lot of beginning
users don't know how to bring up context-sensitive help. (In a recent
usability test we did, we found that a number of users didn't know about the
F1 key.) It also helps to have the help along side of the application
instead of in a separate window or popup that covers the window where you
need to work.

A problem with embedded help is that it can be invasive -- bringing up help
when you don't want or need it. (Think of Microsoft Office and the Paperclip
We Love to Hate.) Embedded help also takes up valuable screen real estate
that could be used by the program.

Embedded help does require programmer support, perhaps *a lot* of programmer
support depending on how you want to implement it. You'll need to fit in
time to do the coding and testing.

>Should we give users an option to turn off embedded help, or should we keep
>it always there so that it's always giving them different things to read?

I'd give the users the option to turn it off. Once users get familiar with
the product, help becomes a nuisance instead of a benefit.

For example, I upgraded to Micrografx Windows Draw 6.0, after I've been
using it since it first came out. This version of Windows Draw comes up with
a couple of assistance panes that guide you through projects. I turned those
off immediately. I was able to learn how to use the product without them,
and they took up space I wanted to use for drawing.

>"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink...
>...but you *can* dunk its head under water and kick it up the backside!"

But, in turn, the horse will kick *you*, usually in a place you wouldn't
want to be kicked!

Good luck!

Matthew Stern
Sr. Technical Writer
Platinum Software Corporation
mastern -at- platsoft -dot- com

"Mommy made a very big mistake."

--Monica S. Lewinsky

The opinions expressed here are solely my
own (if anyone else would want them).

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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