Summary - Online Documentation vs. Help

Subject: Summary - Online Documentation vs. Help
From: Ben Hechter <ben_hechter -at- NORTEL-NSM -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 11 Dec 1997 10:13:12 -0800

Thanks to everyone who replied to the query for a "pithy" delineation
between online reference and contextual help.

The general consensus is that it is a question of:

1. Access:
- Help ideally provides auto-access to the required information
- Online documentation requires the user to search

2. Relevance and specificity to the task at hand:
- Help is specific
- Online documentation may be specific, but may not be.

3. Depth:
- Help is terse, providing the user with just enough to know
- Online documentation provides a full reference, with background and

A number of people cited the following title as the definitive reference:
Designing and Writing Online Documentation: Hypermedia for Self-supporting
Products, 2nd edition, W. Horton, Wiley Technical Communication Library

Ben Hechter
Instructional Designer
INM - Integrated Network Management
Northern Telecom
Vancouver BC, or

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