Reading Usable Help
@UsableHelp on Twitter
Gordon R. Meyer
It's a real challenge to write a single set of documentation for readers with differing amounts of expertise. If you assume too much beginning users will be lost or--worse yet--get in over their heads. And of course if you cater to the newbies, advanced users will ignore your documentation, even though they might stand to learn something if they'd only stick with it.
One solution is to have users self-identify their ability, although if done too broadly, I don't thinks this works very well. None of us is very good at assessing ourselves, particularly when using a measurement of unclear scope and calibration.
Google's new Webmasters Help for Hacked Sites takes an interesting approach. The overall document is written for all users, but certain steps are identified as being for "advanced, intermediate, or beginner" users. One thing this communicates is that there are some things that everyone can do, a few that a lot of people can do, and a couple that require expertise. This lets readers know at a glance if they're ultimately going to be able to solve the problem by themselves.