Who Are the Expert Users?
Expert users are individual users who use an application extremely skillfully, perform most tasks super-efficiently, and achieve the highest performance results. They use the application very frequently—either as a professional or as a hobbyist. They understand the application’s complex functionality very well and look forward to mastering it.
Expert users like to take shorter routes to completing tasks and often discover these shortcuts themselves. They are continually on the prowl to find and internalize knowledge that leads to performance improvements. They are highly motivated, active self-taught learners, preferring exploring to assisted learning. They participate enthusiastically in user forums, answering rather than asking questions.
How Can You Help Expert Users?
Writing Help for expert users is always a challenge. They quickly cover the basic learning curve for an application and soon find all the typical Help content overly simple. What can we then feed their hungry minds?
- To satisfy their curiosity about the application, explain why in addition to what and how. Consider how Google ranks search results. For expert Google users, knowing why a specific result ranks first has a very high importance. Such users have a natural urge to understand why a result so closely matches their search objective. Explain it to them. You can make viewing such in-depth information optional by providing links to it from procedural Help pages.
- Describe the business rules and system limitations that justify an application’s restrictions. If a field can accept only eight characters, describe the reasons behind that. Expert users are able to appreciate the resource optimization decisions system developers make.
- Include detailed references and background information. Even if your expert users already have sufficient domain knowledge, they always want to enhance it and correlate it with the tasks they perform using the application. You can either add such information to the Help system itself or provide links directing readers to resources on your Web site.
- Exclude some obvious tips and tricks to let expert users satisfy their need for discovery.
- Supplement glossary entries with examples, formulas, and information about appropriate usage. For instance, if your glossary includes statistical methods, suggest when and why a particular method is appropriate.
- Design interesting case studies to stimulate expert users’ minds and demonstrate possible uses for the application. You can even invite them to solve the cases!
- Include best practices. Experts love them.
- Create self-assessment questionnaires on application usage skills, prompting users to try out previously unexplored features. Such questionnaires also let users see whether they’ve reached the next level of expertise!
- Customization is a favorite activity of expert users, so provide customization options in the Help system itself—such as the default page to display, choice of skins, font size, favorites, and so on. You can also let expert users turn off basic Help once they’ve familiarized themselves with the application.
- Whenever possible, hint that your knowledgebase has much more to offer than the bundled Help and encourage expert users to explore these resources.
If all these additions make the Help system too bulky, split the system up according to skill levels. Users actually derive pleasure from moving up to the next level of expertise.