Better help: General guidelines
In the previous post about users’ lack of love for help, I promised something more hopeful, including guidelines distilled from more usability studies and experts’ recommendations. So, here are some qualities of good help, with short explanatory notes.
In terms of content, good help is:
- relevant—address the common questions and problems that real users have (use feedback, support requests and studies)
- complete—include task instructions, definitions, requirements and examples
- scannable—use headings, lists and tables, but not too many links or emphasized words
- readable—keep it short, clear and easy on the eyes
- self-contained—try to make every page useful on its own
- right there—provide intuitive ways to access help wherever it’s needed
- context-specific—let users avoid searching with tooltips and relevant links in dialogs and menus
- searchable—index the content with popular synonyms (but match the UI in text)
- easy to navigate—minimize the number of organization levels, consider adding a “sitemap”
- non-intrusive—don’t interrupt the user or hide their work area
The good news is that some of these guidelines already match the current design and writing style of the GNOME Documentation Project. Others, not so much. In the next post I will take a more detailed look at Empathy help in GNOME 3.