Online help is just like printed documentation, a reference tool for
A complex program with many features and functions should come with a reference document: a place where users who wish to expand their horizons with a product can find definitive answers. This document can be a printed manual or it can be online help. The printed manual is comfortable,
Because you don't read a manual like a
The authors suspect that few online help facilities they've seen were indexed by a professional indexer. However many entries are in your program's index, you could probably double the number. What's more, the index needs to be generated by examining the program and all its features, not by examining the help text. This is not easy, because it demands that a highly skilled indexer be intimately familiar with all the features of the program. It may be easier to
The list of index entries is arguably more important than the text of the entries
One of the features missing from almost every help system is a shortcuts option. It is an item in the Help menu which when selected, shows in digest form all the tools and keyboard commands for the program's various features. It is a very necessary component on any online help system because it provides what perpetual intermediates need the most: access to features. They need the tools and commands more than they need detailed instructions.
The other missing ingredient from online help systems is
. Users want to know how the Enter Macro command works, and the help system explains uselessly that it is the facility that lets you enter macros into the system. What we need to know is scope, effect, power, upside, downside, and why we might want to use this facility both in absolute terms and in comparison to similar products from other
Many help systems assume that their role is to provide assistance to beginners. This is not true. Beginners stay away from the help system because it is
ToolTips are modeless online help, and they are incredibly effective. Standard help systems, on the other hand, are implemented in a separate program that covers up most of the program for which it is offering help. If you were to ask a human how to perform a task, he would use his finger to point to objects on the screen to augment his explanation. A separate help program that obscures the main program cannot do this. Apple has used an innovative help system that directs the user through a task step by step by highlighting
are an idiom unleashed on the world by Microsoft, and they have
Programmers like wizards because they get to treat the user like a peripheral device. Each of the wizard's dialogs asks the user a question or two, and in the end the program
Wizards are written as step-by-step procedures, rather than as informed conversations between user and program. The user is like the conductor of a robot orchestra,
There is a place for wizards in actions that are very rarely used, such as installation and initial configuration. In the
A better way to create a wizard is to make a simple, automatic function that asks no questions of the user but that just goes off and does the job. If it creates a presentation, for example, it should create it, and then let the user have the option, later, using standard tools, to change the presentation. The interrogation tactics of the typical wizard are not friendly, reassuring, or particularly helpful. The wizard often doesn't explain to the user what is going on.
Wizards were purportedly designed to improve user interfaces, but they are, in many cases, having the
Perhaps not much needs to be said about Clippy and his cousins, since even Microsoft has turned against their creation in its marketing of Windows XP (not that it has actually
Clippy from XP, mind you). Clippy is a remnant of research Microsoft did in the creation of BOB, an "intuitive" real-world, metaphor-laden interface remarkably similar to General Magic's Magic Cap interface, discussed
A significant issue with "intelligent" animated agents is that by
These constructs soon become cloying and distracting. Users of Microsoft Office are trying to accomplish something, not be entertained by the antics and pratfalls of the help system. Most applications demand more direct, less distracting, and trustworthier means of getting assistance.