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Issue 2.5

COLUMN

Help!, Part II

The fine art of documentation

Issue: 2.5 (May/June 2004)
Author: Toby Rush
Author Bio: Toby Rush is a music instructor, consultant, freelance programmer, web designer, husband, and Dad in Greeley, Colorado.
Article Description: No description available.
Article Length (in bytes): 9,851
Starting Page Number: 44
Article Number: 2522
Related Link(s): None

Excerpt of article text...

In last month's column, we talked about how to write a program that doesn't need a user's manual. Assuming you've designed a foolproof interface, the next step is to realize that there is no such thing as a foolproof interface -- and then add some contextual help.

Con-what-ual?

The concept behind contextual help is to provide explicit help as part of the interface. This means more than just designing a "helpful" interface; it involves adding instructions or tips into the interface without forcing the user to open a book, electronic or otherwise.

Contextual help may be ever-present, as it is in Mac OS X, or it may be something the user has to enable, as in OS 9. In fact, we'll talk about how contextual help is done in both of these systems, and how REALbasic handles each of these.

It's worth noting that contextual help is generally "Plan C" for the confused user: The Apple Human Interface Guidelines explain that, when stuck, most users generally first try to figure things out themselves through experimentation. When that fails, they will usually ask someone else how to do what they want. It's only then that most people will look for on-screen help.

...End of Excerpt. Please purchase the magazine to read the full article.