Cooking up Help

The concept of "recipes" as a framework for instruction is interesting. It differs from traditional Help which tends to focus on sub-tasks more than the higher-level goals. It also differs from the features-and-options approach taken by most manuals. In both, users are left to knit the various pieces together themselves, and are often unable to do successfully do so until they've digested enough about the product to understand how it all works together.

In the recipe model users are guided to a tangible end result, and only the steps and information necessary to accomplish this specific task are discussed. Focused, straightforward, and a clear end-point. Just like a kitchen recipe. Can you imagine a tomato soup recipe that slipped in an "overview" of vegetables with a sidebar on broth? Me neither.

Another advantage of a Help Recipe is that users can easily ignore them if they're not interested in the accomplishing that particular result. Just like skipping the recipe for Chicken-Fried Steak if you're allergic to poultry.

Also, because each recipe stands alone, there are few prerequisites other than basic skills. Again, just like in the kitchen where it's never necessary to have read "Old Fashioned Meatloaf" in order to understand "Giant Colossal Burgers".

Gerry Loiacono talks about recipes and how their format enhances readability. (He also points out the recipe collection at Zopelabs, which also happens to be another example of user-contributed comments and additions to documentation. See Using Blogs for Help)

Posted: March 6, 2003 link to this item, Tweet this item, respond to this item