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Style guidelines for how to structure helpfiles?

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i think screencasts are really useful to show someone if the application is going to be useful to them.
and doing a bunch of short ones can be really helpful to demonstrate features.
but i think a help file satisfies a real need, and can be useful for the author as well, as documentation of what the program does.

Screencasts are good marketing, they get you thinking "oh cool" but they are not good help/reference

In fact they are on the useless side for help:

* screencasts are not searchable
* the pace is slow
* I can't jump to the one bit that I am interested in
All are scenarios where you go to the help section or FAQ

Heck even for image manipulation programs I have rarely seen a screencast be more useful than well annotated screenshots... I'd say never, I can't remember of one, but there must be some cases

Paul Keith:
screencasts are not searchable
--- End quote ---

False. There are users searching for someone to show them how to work an app rather than a specific feature.

One can argue that a well designed app shouldn't need that but then one ignores how something as common and design understood as cars often require a school for people to even know how to get the thing to run.

Even for simpler applications, just because it's simple doesn't mean people get it if they don't grasp the concept and purpose.

the pace is slow
--- End quote ---

Every type of help section is slow.

Wading through poor and ignorant customer service is slow.

Wading through help files jumping from features to features just to get an animation in your head of how you can use the application is slow.

Asking around forums, registering and then hoping you don't get flamed is slow.

Even FAQs are slower because these things can skip such basic things as what the application is about when the text description isn't enough. (and assumes you know universal things such as logging in, follow, what not to do to ruin your initial experience, etc.)

I can't jump to the one bit that I am interested in
--- End quote ---

You can. Annotations/frame buttons/etc.

The point for the user in need is why would they?

There's a reason they want to look at the video and not just half of it. If you mean for further reference or rewinding then that's where the video helps give the user the confidence to understand the help manual better.

Heck even for image manipulation programs I have rarely seen a screencast be more useful than well annotated screenshots...
--- End quote ---

It could be because you had less problem learning the basics or had someone guide you through it.

For someone like me who doesn't know how to do the most basic of things like cropping, it took a screencast or a video to really help form that image in my head.

No matter how I read the text or see screenshots, I just couldn't get the basics down especially when you combine them into steps.

A screencast affords me an easier way to visualize the real time ramifications of what's happening in front of me and why someone might do something first and then do something next instead of just a bunch of isolated features.

First: apologies, I havent read the thread fully :-[ but being a brazen git I'll post anyways :)

one challenge is clearly combining (or separating) [1] info about the preferences/options, also possibly the interface/menus etc. and [2] showing people how to actually use the programme.

generally intuitive is better - but if you can do something much quicker, in a way that is initially more difficult to learn - I would always opt for the latter.

I personally think they can only supplement other info (I've seen one major software site where I couldnt see a comprehensive list of features but was allowed to look at very slow moving videos - I gave up)

Interesting conversation -- probably has to do with different learning styles. I was trying to figure out iTunes for a relative's iPod shuffle and I noticed the first thing that appears when you install it is help screencasts, not the program itself. I of course said screw that, and hit Google and dug up lots of outdated information. If I had been in my right mind, I would have checked the help file, but I was too busy thinking that if you can't make a glorified file copy program intuitive, you shouldn't be in the software business.

Anyway there will be a both screencast and a help file for my NANY project, time permitting.


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