Online Help: How Concise?

Subject: Online Help: How Concise?
From: Barb Ostapina <Barb -dot- Ostapina -at- METROMAIL -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 19 Dec 1997 10:11:35 -0500

I would really appreciate your thoughts on this:

I am writing my first online help text. It's for a desktop national
directory assistance system (to be used on an intranet, so it has that kind
of interface). My audience is basically anybody (well, anybody who would
work for a company that would supply them with our desktop national
directory assistance product).

From reading all your comments over the last few months re: online help, I
appreciate the importance of being concise, and I also appreciate the
importance on not saying TOO little. But, with such a diverse audience, how
basic do you think I need to get?

Do I need to tell them that they have to Tab to or Click on the data entry
field, or just tell them how to enter the data for maximum search return
(e.g., do I say, "tab to or click on the name field and enter just the
first few letters followed by a period..." or do I leave off the "tab to or
click on" part)?

Do I need to explain the HELP radio buttons (options are ON and OFF)? Seems
pretty self-explanatory to me, but then again...

Do I need to tell them how to exit the system, or could I assume they know
that if they know how to use the intranet?

Oddly enough, the online help will be the only instruction they get
initially. The product manager wants that done, and then may want a user
guide/quick reference of some sort. Of course this is not rocket
science--most people have sought directory assistance services before, but
probably not from their own desktop.

TIA for your thoughts...
barb -dot- ostapina -at- metromail -dot- com, or

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