February 14, 2017
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Break up content into independent topics that can be viewed, understood, and updated independent of the whole. A topic or chunk should not be so interconnected with the whole that it cannot stand on its own.
You can just read the sections about the tasks you want to do.— John Carroll, The Nurnberg Funnel
A Frankenbook is organized neither for linear reading, nor for random access. No matter where you land in it, you are in the middle of a maze with buttons to move up, down, or sideways, but no means of finding the end of any thread of narrative, great or small. Every page is page 297 and none of them answer your question .... .— Mark Baker, Every Page Is Page One
A hierarchical outline of the content (with parent and child items organized in trees) helps users both understand and visualize complex information.
Hierarchies that are too complex, or which hide parent-child displays, fail to communicate. Find a balance that allows users to take in the hierarchy at a glance in a meaningful way.
Navigation provides a narrative for people to follow on the web.
— James Kalbach, Designing Web Navigation: Optimizing the User Experience
|"Getting Started Building
Widgets for System Z"
|"About Managing Language
Settings in Product Z"
|→||"Manage language settings"|
|"Configuring the Gizmo Settings
for Development Environments"
|→||"Set up developer environment"|
You can organize content in 5 ways:
Generally, doc is grouped by category more than location (except with context-sensitive help).
Faceted navigation is arguably the most significant search innovation of the past decade.
— Peter Morville, Search Patterns
With tags, your files and photos can be in two, three, or more “places” at once.— Gene Smith, People-Powered Metadata for the Social Web
Layer information so that you don't present everything to the user at once. Make some information available only at secondary or tertiary levels of navigation.
See also: Layering, Constraint
Progressive disclosure is the best tool so far: show people the basics first, and once they understand that, allow them to get to the expert features. But don't show everything all at once or you will only confuse people and they will waste endless time messing with features that they don't need yet.— Jakob Nielsen, Interaction Design
The larger, more complex the system, the greater the strain on the user. The greater the strain, the lower the user's success. In many cases, documentation that is too massive deflates the user from even trying at all.
See also: Cost-Benefit, Hierarchy of Needs, Control
"An information retrieval system will tend not to be used whenever it is more painful and troublesome for a customer to have information than for him not to have it."
Instead of eliminating potentially useful info, provide quick reference guides that help users get oriented quickly with minimal cognitive load and low cost.
The entry point to your system should orient users and allow them to easily get started. Avoid barriers that block, confuse, or otherwise hinder the user's progress to their goal.
Look at common paths users take through information, and then make those paths more prominent and standard.
If users consistently go to the same 10 topics, put those topics front and center in your help system to facilitate a more standard path to those topics.
Provide navigational signposts — such as breadcrumbs or other workflow maps — to help orient users as to where they are in a larger system. Don't assume that the user navigated to the current page following the path you intended.
Users desire to be immersed in the application or system they're using rather than leaving that system to consult a separate, external system for help. Allow users to stay immersed in the application context by bringing help into the application.
See also: Fitt's Law
The conclusion of most studies about how people use help is that people don't use help.-- Mike Hughes, I'd Rather Be Writing podcast
The further a user must travel with their cursor, the less accuracy the user will have in reaching the target object.
— Travis Lowdermilk, User-centered Design
Taking risks, experimenting, and exploring systems on their own helps users learn. When users make errors during these activities, help guide them back on the right path.