Reading Usable Help
@UsableHelp on Twitter
Gordon R. Meyer
Designing for attitudes
In the 1986 paper "Designing Computer Documentation that Will Be Used: Understanding Computer User Attitudes," Ann Solem reports on a study done at Los Alamos National Laboratory. After studying 6000 users, the findings challenge the still pervasive notion that documentation needs are driven by the capabilities of the users -- Novice vs Expert, Programmer vs Non-technical, and so on. These categories, says the study "tend to pigeonhole people and fail to recognize that a user can have different documentation needs at different times of the day."
Instead, Solem writes, documentation need are significantly determined by user attitudes, which fall into three primary categories: (1) no time to learn, (2) want to learn, and (3) know what I want. Documentation strategies that serve each include Quick Steps, that omit detail and explanation, overview and tutorial material, and reference material organized for the knowledgeable user.
The short but thought-provoking study is available at the ACM Digital Library.