Re: help browser plan

On Wed, Nov 28, 2001 at 01:37:17PM +0000, Calum Benson wrote:
> Miles Lane wrote:
> > Please take a look at the screenshots here:
> >
> Hmm... personally in the days when I used Visual Studio, I found the
> Help system hindered my productivity somewhat, because it was verging on
> useless unless you sized it to take up most of your display, thereby
> obscuring the very application you were looking for help on. From the
> screenshots, it seems to have got worse since then, if anything... am I
> mistaken?

What documentation usability research I've looked at* supports this
argument, both directly (the help window obscures the task window) and
in a more subtle way (having the help window pop up interrupts the
cognitive task at hand).[1]

The first point we can partially address by making the help browser
smaller (and the written documentation more pithy and to-the-point so
useful chunks fit in a small window).

On the second point any attempt at on-line help is at least partially
doomed. Context-sensitive help partially addresses this, as does
searchability, making it easier to get to the relevant material
with minimal interruption of the task. But I'd be willing to bet that
every single person reading this has a stack of books within arms
reach, despite the fact that essentially everything that is in those
books is also documented in some fashion in man and info pages, and
other bits already installed on their computer. There is evidence
that books just work better, no matter what.[2]



[1] Rieman, Exploratory Learning Strategies, ACM Transactions on
Computer-Human Interaction, Vol. 3, No. 3, p. 216
[2] "... it is apparent that printed manuals out-perform
computer-based searching." Hertzum and Frokjaer, ACM Transactions on
Computer-Human Interaction, Vol. 3 No. 2, p. 149

* Disclaimer: I'm no expert here - I just spent a day in the library
one time 'cause I was curious about this question.

John Fleck
jfleck inkstain net (h),
"A M00se once bit my sister..."
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