Online help vs. online tutorial?

Subject: Online help vs. online tutorial?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 28 Feb 2001 15:46:55 -0500

Donna Marino wonders: <<What is the difference between online help and an
online tutorial? ... I'm not really sure what to include in a tutorial that
a user reads online. Just as I wouldn't dump a printed manual online and
call it online help, I don't want to take a printed tutorial and simply put
it online. I'm looking to take advantage and make the most of the online

"Help" answers a question; "tutorials" show students get to the point where
they need to consult the online help. <g> You're wise not to simply dump the
printed tutorial online, since this misses the whole point of having it on
the computer: letting the person work with the application while the
tutorial holds their hand and leads them through their paces. If you have
the resources, "wizards" or similar online aids provide a marvelous learning
tool: the text component of the wizard tells the reader what to do, and they
can then actually try doing it in the applicationor have the wizard do it
for them (if they're the nervous type). If you don't have the resources to
develop wizards, you can place the steps in the tutorial in a window that
floats atop the application so the reader can use it as a checklist that
guides how they use the application; the interactivity isn't there, but you
at least avoid the need to glance back and forth between the paper.

The other thing an online tutorial can accomplish that print doesn't handle
as well is use the power of hyperlinks to better structure the information.
For example, any audience of students will have people who just want to
follow the steps, and a second group who want to understand what they're
doing and why. With hypertext, you can present the steps, and provide a
"What and why?" button beside the step that lets them link to more detailed
information; that detail is invisible until someone asks to see it, thus
making the tasks look less intimidating than if each one is followed by
paragraphs of text. Similarly, you can provide a table of contents that
links to each task in the tutorial so the students can choose the order in
which they do the tasks.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"How are SF writers like technical writers? Well, we both write about the
things we imagine will happen in the future!"--Sue Gallagher

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