11. user support


Applications are often supported by an online version of the paper documentation; in some cases there is no paper documentation at all.

What are the advantages of online documentation? What are the disadvantages, and how can they be overcome?

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Advantages: the material is available continually (assuming the machine is running!) in the same medium as the user's work and, potentially, to a large number of users concurrently. Paper manuals get lost easily, are constrained to one physical location, and are often somewhere else when you want them. On-line documentation is one way of avoiding these problems. Often on-line documentation is searchable by keyword (not a substitute for a good index!) and may include hypertext links including links to external electronic sources such as the web.

Disadvantages: people prefer reading text on paper than on a computer screen. Cues used in browsing paper documents, e.g. indexing, contents and page numbering are not always reproduced in electronic documentation systems.

The amount of information can in itself create problems for the user (though this might also be a problem with a paper document). The detail 'masks the information the user wants to find. On-line documentation may be more suitable for expert users as a resource or reference than for less experienced users.

Overcoming disadvantages: breaking the documentation into clear logical sections; providing a summary of the key information prominently, with further information available if required; using hypertext techniques; minimal manuals.

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)

all exercises for this chapter