Re: Opinions on Embedded Help?

Subject: Re: Opinions on Embedded Help?
From: Sella Rush <sellar -at- APPTECHSYS -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 9 Mar 1999 16:12:48 -0800

Actually, it was Tony Self's session, which was good as well as
entertaining.

I went to a post-conference session by Cheryl on the same topic. She talked
about consulting Help as an interruption in the user's work flow. Embedded
help gives users the info they need without their having to look for it.
One type of embedded help is to have an entire pane in the application
window that displays help topics; you can set it up to have the topic change
depending on what the user is working on, so they don't have to do anything
but read what's in front of them. (So much for Geoff Hart's comments on
user responsibility--which I agreed with.) Another type is to include
simple (or detailed) instructions into dialog boxes.

But then Cheryl said something I found very interesting (paraphrase):

Help needs to grow with the user.

The context of this statement was the issue brought up by David. If you use
very obvious, space-gobbling embedded help, such as an entire pane
displaying help topics or detailed instructions in a dialog box, you need to
have a way for people to turn it off when they no longer need it.

A suggestion she made that I plan to use is a show/hide help panel on a
dialog box. Anyone who uses Word has seen it--in the find/replace dialog
box, click More and an additional section of the dialog box appears with
additional options. I have an interface with some very complex dialog
boxes. Using a Show/Hide Help button, I can provide static, pertinent help.
I can default all of this type of help to Show, and let the user turn it off
when they're ready. (This is what makes it different from what's this
help.) If I have multiple dialog boxes with this kind of help, I can
include an option to turn it on or off globally--probably in the Help menu.

(BTW--much of the embedded help demos were very interesting, but essentially
limited to IE4, as usual. Basically, MS Visual studio tools now include a
browser object that you can put in your interface. This means you can
display HTML help pages. Of course, the browser object only works if you've
got IE4 installed.)

Sella Rush
mailto:sellar -at- apptechsys -dot- com
Applied Technical Systems (ATS)
Bremerton, Washington
Developers of the CCM Database


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