How Do We Make Short Answers Easy to Find?

In pursuit of the ultimate techCom information architecture

Many users avoid user manuals since they find it cumbersome to search for information in static structures, such as a table of contents. Technical communicators need to move away from the book-like paradigm altogether, and provide user assistance designed to accommodate the information-seeking behavior of users.

Current ways of delivering technical documentation– such as via a PDF or CHM file, HTML web help, or Wiki, etc., all have something in common: content is organized in a static, arbitrary structure. In such a book-like format, the table of contents is often the user’s only option when it comes to finding relevant information. It’s an almost impossible challenge to design a static structure that everyone finds logical.

Additional search interfaces such as an index and free text-search, or even providing the possibility to dynamically filter out parts of the table of contents, do improve the user’s search experience to some extent. But, a user beginning their search from such interfaces may sooner or later end up in the table of contents, growing increasingly frustrated by the challenge of making sense of it.

To provide user assistance designed to accommodate the information-seeking behavior of users means that answers must be easy to find on a mobile device or tablet. But, if we cannot organize information into static structures, what are our options? In part 3 of the Designing for the Searching Userarticle series, I describe an alternative way to design end user assistance which I believe will make short answers easier to find. Read more... Focus Areas: BPEL | DITA | ebXML | IDtrust | OpenDocument | SAML | UBL | UDDI
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