In the ideal interaction between humans and computers, technology handles the routine, mundane tasks at which it excels, allowing people to focus on higher-level, more important aspects of achieving their goals. Nevertheless, until recently, technology’s role in providing user assistance has been limited to providing traditional online Help and on screen instructions. However, as technology becomes ever more powerful, it increasingly has the ability to offer more proactive user assistance and even perform certain tasks automatically, easing the cognitive load on the user.
At its best, proactive user assistance can be very helpful. At its worst, it can be distracting, even annoying to users who receive either unwanted assistance or incorrect information. Remember Clippy, shown in Figure 1, the animated-paperclip assistant in Windows 95 that irritated legions of computer users? There’s nothing more annoying than a system’s automatically taking unwanted actions or constantly offering undesired suggestions. Read More
Tables get a bad rap—especially in the Web world where, once upon a time, Web developers misused them for HTML layout. But tables are still very useful for the purpose for which they were originally intended—a way to show relationships among discrete data points. From a user assistance perspective, we deal with tables in two contexts:
user assistance—Tables can present information or instructions in our documentation.
user interfaces—Tables can display information within a user interface itself.
In this column, I’ll review some of the basic principles of good table design from an information developer’s perspective, then discuss their visual design and interactivity. These principles and my examples provide the bare essentials of table design. When designing tables, a key information design objective is keeping them simple, so if you start needing more than this column provides, you might be making things unnecessarily complicated for your users. Read More
The profession of technical writing is on the verge of obsolescence! If you are a technical writer, you need to open your eyes to this reality. The current industry trend shows that hiring managers are looking for people who can fill more than one critical role. With many programmers, quality-assurance testers, analysts, and consultants taking on technical writing, it will eventually become impossible to sustain a career solely as a technical writer without any hands-on technical or analytical experience.
To survive in the ever-changing IT industry, it is essential that technical writers keep honing their skills to avoid becoming dispensable. As the saying goes, it is never too late to learn something new. In this article, we’ll describe some of the proficiencies you should consider acquiring in addition to your technical writing skills. Read More