Reading Usable Help
@UsableHelp on Twitter
Gordon R. Meyer
Help users are tunnel readers
Gerry McGovern writes about techniques for presenting readers information that they might not be looking for, but would benefit from knowing. He writes:
"People come to your website on a mission. They want to do something specific. They are tunnel readers. Telling them what else you do--without annoying them--is a major challenge. Doing it well is about relevance and context. It’s about presenting the right content at the right time."
The notion of "tunnel readers" is particularly applicable to onscreen Help users. Even more so than websites, customers come to Help for a specific reason. Presenting supplemental information, such as related topics and "other things you can do", needs to be done so that doesn't distract the reader. Particularly if the information seems to promise an answer to their current problem but is really quite tangental. Customers judge the value of Help by how quickly they find accurate answers to their questions. Help authors must walk a fine line between introducing too many tangents that can endanger the user's current success, and not restricting their view so strictly that serendipitous discoveries are impossible.
Thank you for the link, InfoDesign.