This website covers topics on knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

PDF isn't the right way to deliver help

James Robertson points to an aspect of one of my minor peeves with software: manuals that are online PDF's.  PDF manuals: the wrong paradigm for an online experience

Mike Hughes writes about the problems with PDF manuals. To quote:

Let me describe a familiar user assistance experience. A user installs a new application, and when the user wants Help, the application directs her to the user documentation on a Web site or CD-ROM. What the user finds there is a PDF file containing the manual—or a collection of PDF files, representing a library of manuals, including a user guide, configuration guide, troubleshooting guide, and various references. And the layout of each of these PDF manuals is exactly the same as if it were a printed book. This raises an interesting question: If we’re giving manuals to users to read online, why do we design and write them for paper?

I hadn't even thought of this aspect of usability, but I have to agree. 

My beef is usually that I need help precisely when I am in the middle of something and don't have the time (or connection) to go off and download a bulky PDF file.  Why can't they have context-sensitive help or otherwise useful information, such as context-setting scenarios?  Even better, why not make the application clear enough to use that I don't need to go traipsing off to the manual? 

The full Mike Hughes article goes into some detail on this topic, even providing some pointers on how to provide useful (online) documentation.  One thing I'm happy my current employer does with their software is that all help is delivered with the software in the form of traditional F1-access help files.

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