11. user support


Describe some of the different approaches to providing user support systems, with examples.

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Command assistance - the user requests help on a particular command and is presented with a help screen or manual page describing it. This is the approach used in the UNIX man help system and the DOS help command.
Efficient only if the user knows what he wants to know about, which is often not the case. Deals well with commands which the user is aware of but uses rarely.
Command prompts - provide help when the user encounters an error, usually in the form of correct usage prompts. Useful if the error is a simple one, such as incorrect syntax, but assumes some knowledge of the command.
Context-sensitive help - range from those with specific knowledge of the particular user to provision of a simple help key or function that the system interprets according to the context in which it is called. Often used in menu-based systems to provide help on menu options, e.g. Macintosh Balloons help or tooltips.
On-line tutorials - allow the user to work through the basics of an application, progressing at his own speed, experimenting with small examples, and repeating parts of the tutorial if needed. Most on-line tutorials know nothing about the user's experience or the domain, so are inflexible and often unforgiving.
On-line documentation - parallels the paper documentation and makes the material available continually in the same medium as the user's work. Disadvantage is that large manuals may be less appropriate on-line than on paper. The large amount of information contained in manual pages can create problems for the user by 'masking' the information they are seeking, so on-line documentation is often used by more expert users as a resource or reference.

Other exercises in this chapter

ex.11.1 (ans), ex.11.2 (ans), ex.11.3 (ans), ex.11.4 (ans), ex.11.5 (tut), ex.11.6 (tut), ex.11.7 (tut), ex.11.8 (tut), ex.11.9 (tut), ex.11.10 (tut)

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