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June 17, 2011 / Nita

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.

An expert giving you a kindly stern look.

Experts strongly advise you take expert advice.

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

In terms of use, good help is:

  • 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.



Leave a Comment
  1. andre klapper / Jun 18 2011 8:47 pm

    The “content” part looks like a good potential wikipage on (with some more examples)… :)


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