Designing Web-based Embedded Help
| by Scott DeLoach
Embedded help, as seen in Microsoft Money 99 and HTML Help Workshop, allows users to receive assistance without leaving the product. However, it requires close coordination between software developers and technical communicators. Difficult issues such as how, where, and when to present the information must be resolved. Beyond conference presentations and workshops, little information exists on how to make these decisions and how to design embedded help.
of Embedded Help
Empowerment: An Embedded Help Design Case Study
All of these features are provided for Internet Explorer 3+ and Netscape Navigator 3+ without any user installation.
I will also explain how issues such as help content placement, window size (and resizing), interactivity between the help, the application, and the user, and overall help system design were approached and handled.
My goal is to provide support without distracting the user from their task. Users do not like to open Help: it takes them away from their task and they don't like to admit that they need help. By automatically displaying Help topics, Source Empowerment allows users to benefit from the support information without leaving their task and without specifically asking questions.
I use progress tracking to build user confidence and satisfaction and to help prevent errors. For longer tasks, users need to know that they are making progress toward their goal. Otherwise, they may lose interest and/or confidence in the application and give up. Often, users will lose their place in the task and accidentally skip or incorrectly complete a step. Automatically tracking their progress makes matching the current step to the interface much easier and therefore makes it easier to successfully complete the task.
Lie, Håkon Wium and Bert Bos, Cascading Style Sheets:
Designing for the Web, New York, NY: Addison-Wesley, 1999.
NY: McGraw-Hill, 1998.
CA: O'Reilly & Associates, 1997.
Scott DeLoach is a founding partner of User First Services, Inc, an Atlanta-based consulting company that specializes in designing and creating user assistance. Scott has received two STC International Online Competition Awards for interactive user assistance systems, and he currently serves as the STC International Online SIG Manager. He holds a Master's degree in Technical and Scientific Communication from Miami University.