Reading Usable Help
@UsableHelp on Twitter
Gordon R. Meyer
Tips about tips
Mike Hughes, writing about instructional text within a program's interface, provides a great overview of how to make sure your "UI Text" is as helpful as possible. It's all about context, and recognizing how people read and utilize text that is intermingled with a workflow. This is often the most effective form of user assistance, and it's critical to the success of a product to get it right. If you have to choose between polishing the UI Text or the Help (or the manual), always spend time on the UI Text. Not only will more customers see it, you can have a lasting impact on the user's perception of the product.
Many of the same techniques apply to onscreen Help, too. While t is is not integrated with the product--and rarely has any sense of UI context--it nonetheless should not impede the workflow. Here are some of the techniques, adjusting slightly for onscreen Help, that I thought applied quite well:
Do not introduce required conceptual information before it is required.
Once a user's focus has been drawn downward on the page, it is very difficult to redirect it back upstream.
Users tend to leap to actionable items, which makes skimming even more predominate in onscreen Help than it is other forms of writing.
If an action is unclear, users will skip it or make the their best guess at what it means, because they're drawn forward by the next action. This can cause unrecognizable problems further along. Drawing them backwards, to discover their error, is very difficult due to the pull of forward progress and the lack of awareness of their misinterpretation.
Thanks for the link, InfoDesign .