Help is for experts

Interesting observation about using Help by Jensen Harris today:

One of the most interesting epiphanies I’ve had over the last few years seems on the surface like a paradox: “help” in Office is mostly used by experts and enthusiasts.

How can this be? I think my biased assumption was that experts know how to use the software already and eager novices would be poring over the documentation trying to learn how to be more effective using it.

Yet, in usability tests we see it again and again: novices and intermediates click around and experiment, experts try to reason things out and look them up in help.

Here’s my two cents from the helpdesk. In a business setting, beginners and intermediate-level users don’t use Help because they have an “expert” to ask instead. For instance, I’ve been working the helpdesk for 90 days now, and I have yet to have someone call with a question and tell me they looked in Help before calling. They call us, hoping we know the answer and can teach them.

This behavior takes place even in small businesses that don’t have a helpdesk, or maybe that don’t even have an IT staff at all. When you come into an environment and aren’t sure how to do something in Office, you ask someone who’s been there longer, because they probably already know how to do it. This person may not be an expert in the traditonal sense, but they are the expert for that office, as far as knowing how to do what is normally done there. In 7 years of working in a small business, I never had anyone look at help before asking me a question.

Now, once the question reached me, I either know how to do it and pass along that knowledge, or I have to figure it out. In a small environment that nearly always meant going to help, or Google, not necessarily in that order. In the larger environment I will turn to others within the department, but still wind up using help and Google too. Help, in my experience, is used by the person who has run out of other ways to learn how to do something, and usually, that’s by “experts”.

(Original link seen at Ian Landsman’s)

Tags: Help

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