Reading Usable Help
@UsableHelp on Twitter
Gordon R. Meyer
Writing for onscreen reading
One of the best ways of improving Help is make sure it's written for the onscreen environment. In a Publish interview, Jakob Nielsen echos the sentiment for all of Web publishing:
"[My biggest pet peeve is that] people still write for print instead of online. [...] Usability usually doubles when writing for online instead of print. So even if you write less text, people will usually remember twice as much after visiting your site."
Later in the interview, Nielsen hits on another of my favorite pitfalls, using PDF to distribute works designed for paper:
"Simply repurposing big PDF documents is the worst example of using print content for online. Often these reports are very well designed for print and it would be find to use the network to distribute files for printing, but many sites use PDF files as online content and encourage users to browse them, even though this makes for a horrible user experience."
I wonder if companies that distribute manuals in PDF format really expect that users will print the file before attempting to use it onscreen? I could see that as a convenient rationalization for not doing the right thing in terms of document design, but certainly they're fooling themselves when the size of the manual approaches 50 or more pages.