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FAQs and Help live elsewhere

Make information part of the interface

Put the information where people need it

Embedding assistance in the interface works better than sending people to other pages for the information they need.

Just as software should explain itself, your site's interface should offer advice, rather than requiring people to leave the page, go wandering around, find something relevant, and write it on a yellow sticky (or memorize it) and then return and try again.

FAQs and Help live elsewhere

Sure, you may need to provide a big pile of information on other pages, in the form of FAQs and Help. But start out by giving people a word to the wise, right when they need it.

When asked how useful they considered conventional help systems attached to software, almost three quarters of novice users call it "not helpful." (Two thirds of experts say the same thing).

The whole idea of a separate help facility supporting users is antiquated, an echo of paper manuals.

Yes, you may need to provide full documentation in a separate place, but you should let guests avoid that big pile, by offering them on-the-spot tips.

Related articles

Creating customer assistance that actually helps, from Hot Text: Web Writing that Works (2002, PDF, 993K, or about 18 minutes at 56K)

Writing in a genre (Full chapter from Hot Text, in PDF, 770K, or about 13 minutes at 56K)

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) from Hot Text, Web Writing that Works (PDF, 995K, or about 18 minutes at 56K)

Make information part of the interface

Anywhere you want people to act, or where they might need to act, put advice, explanations, or instructions. Build assistance into the interface.

Your aim should be to help keep people on task, to make them successful, and to reduce the need to go elsewhere for information.

Of course, politically, this approach means you must join the design team, and make sure that the page layout has room for these little verbal flourishes. You are no longer creating a whole page about a subject, or even a few paragraphs. You are adding a phrase here, a sentence there, never more than a dozen words, total. You are not "writing about" the site-you are annotating the interface.

 

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