Terminology: much disagreement?

Subject: Terminology: much disagreement?
From: "Geoff Hart" <geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Tue, 21 Dec 1999 08:56:09 -0500

Beth Kane observed <<I've gotten a lot of response to my previous
post (thank you), but the answers are diverse! Here are the
opinions so far about what to call a rectangular pop-up that appears
when your mouse hovers over an element in a window:>>

This diversity suggests that there isn't any real consensus in the
techwhirler community, and that you're better off going to your
audience to find out their preferences. (That's generally the best
approach, but not always feasible.) The goal is to pick a term that
they're generally familiar with; for example, if your product is an add-
on to Microsoft Word, then you know for sure that they all use
Word and you can use the same terminology that the Word docs
use. Microsoft sometimes calls these popups "tool tips" (usually
for icons), but in Word, they're called "ScreenTips" according to the
View options dialog box. If you don't have any obvious way to figure
out what terminology your audience prefers, then pick a term that
seems obvious to you and use it consistently. What you call it is
less important than the fact that you provide a way for them to
understand your nomenclature, remember what it refers to (i.e., the
ability to get help, which is more important than just memorizing
jargon), and use that nomenclature to help them understand the
software.

<<The people where I work have been calling it "fly-over help,"
which I thought was improper, thus prompting this thread.>>

That wouldn't be my first choice, since nothing and nobody is flying
anywhere (unless your user interface is a flight simulator). I
suspect they're thinking of "mouseovers", programmer jargon from
(dynamic?) HTML and probably earlier technologies too. If you don't
want to use "screentips" or invent your own terminology, you might
be able to get away with simply calling it "onscreen help" or "popup
help" in an initial "how to use this interface" section, and thereafter
refer only to "help". In effect, you teach the users _only once_ the
various ways they can get help, and thereafter don't specify which
form of help they should select; once they've learned to use the
help system, they can use whichever method best suits them and
you don't need to keep prompting them by using some jargony
term.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca (Pointe-Claire, Quebec)
"If you can't explain it to an 8-year-old, you don't understand it"--Albert Einstein




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