Thursday, May 29, 2008

Patching up the crack...

Ok, you have to be pretty old to recognize the context of that reference. It's from the theme song to Disney's David Crockett series: "He patched up the crack in the liberty bell." I'm all packed and getting ready to go to the airport for Philadelphia and the STC Summit. First I have a two-day board of directors meeting, a one-day leadership day orientation and then the Summit. I will be speaking on Tuesday from 3:00 to 4:00 on how to use Excel to compare averages for statistical significance. It can be useful for comparing quantifiable data (user ratings, time to do task, etc.) between two products, two versions of a product, or different groups of users. It's a little dry, but I make up for it by talking very loudly.

Speaking of context, I stirred the pot a bit in my current column in UXmatters. Partly due to its reference to culture and partly because I advocate against the need for documentation that explains the obvious. Lots of comments. Please look at the column and weigh in if you want. David Farkas came to my defense-I'm cutting it out and putting it in my scrap book!

I've redesigned my blog site to contain links to my publications. This is in anticipation for dropping my web page. I'm trying to follow Sarah O'Keefe's 80/zero rule. Get 80% of the functionality you need for zero cost. So I'm going with all free hosting and services. It's kind of like being a cyber dharma bum.

If you are a reader of this blog and you are going to the STC Summit in Philly, please look me up and say hi.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Just a brief, newsy blog to keep my I'net pipes running.

Two great blogs to check out: Holly Harkness's blog Future Doc is a rich summary of a speaker she heard. Very provocative. See Miranda Bennett's blog on Translation Phase 2. Need a teaser? Phase 1: Collect underpants.

My column in UXmatters is my take on Jean-Luc Dumont's road sign presentation he did at Currents and how I think it applies to writing user assistance.

Lastly, now that I am teaching a summer course in research in technical communication (shamelessly requiring my book as the text), I am reminded that Education is the only business I know that gives all the good parking spots to the employees and makes the customers walk.

There, that should have my I'net pipes running clear.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Step Results: Clutter vs. Assurance

Sometimes a result statement in a step just adds clutter and annoys the readers (if not out and out insults their intelligence).


  1. Click on Print Properties. The system displays the Print Properties dialog box.

Always useful in case the user wonders what this box is that just popped up that says Print Properties.

Most user assistance writers use result statements sparingly, but there are situations in which they are very valuable:

  • If the user might be unsure what action the system will take and that uncertainty could make her reluctant or anxious to take a step
  • If the system does something significant in the background that the user will not be able to see


I had this one today. The user interface had a link that said "Click here to update to version 1.5839" displayed in blue font and underlined in normal link convention. I didn't know if it was a true link or if it was a link being used in lieu of a command button. Was I going to go to a screen that told me what 1.5839 did or would I just launch the update? It turned out that I got a confirmation box and then the update. In that case, the Help should include result statements:

  1. Click on the link Click here to update to version version number. The system displays a confirmation screen.
  2. To confirm that you want to install the update, click OK. The system installs the update.

Why? Ambiguous UI control.

Result statements can also be useful when the UI is weak on confirmation messages:

  1. Fill in the form.
  2. Click OK. The system updates the record and clears the current form.

This deals with the angst of suddenly having your data go away and wondering did it go anywhere useful. I think a lot of my data goes to a house in Indiana that has the lightbulb that the switch in my hallway turns on and off. I think some of my singleton socks are there too.