Reading Usable Help
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Gordon R. Meyer
Are you a victim of onscreen Help?
James Coates, writing his February 7, 2006 column for the Chicago Tribune, answers a question about Adobe Acrobat, slams onscreen Help, and misses the opportunity to teach his readers how to fend for themselves.
It all begins when Elizabeth Oates asks why she can't use the File>Save As command to save local copies of some PDFs from the Internet or her corporate network. She's justifiably puzzled by the restriction, and annoyed that she has to re-type the information she sees displayed in order to share it with someone else. Coates answers:
"Count yourself among those victimized by the lack of a proper user's manual for folks forced to use the free Adobe Reader software to deal with documents. [...]"
Victimized?! I'm not a big fan of Adobe's onscreen Help design, but that characterization seems unduly harsh, and doesn't really help the situation. Just for fun, I tried to find the answer to Oates' question in Acrobat Reader 6.0 Help. I found the answer in less than one minute by searching for "can't save." By using words that will discourage all of his readers from using the documentation they already have, Coates truly missed an opportunity to teach his users a valuable skill. What a shame.