What If

– Anindita Basu

What if my Help was not at all like the Help as we usually see it?

What if every menu option had a tiny Help next to it? So every time I hover my mouse over it, it tells me stuff like “If you click Open, your currently open catalog is automatically closed and unsaved changes are lost. We don’t multitask”.


What if there was no ToC? Every time I look at a tree with branches, shoots, and shootlets, my eyes glaze over and I just holler for a friend to come help me. I’d much rather look at a clean, white-spaced page that has bullet points that go 1, 2, 3. No left pane, no right pane. What if, instead of a tree of topics, I am shown only one topic? Like it happens when I click-through a Google search link? The topic that I reached by clicking the tiny Help button on the options on the menu bar?


What if every Help topic helps me orient myself? I am lost, I am asking for directions, and I’d like to know which direction is North (there’s no sun and it’s a cloudy night, so I don’t know).What if every page had a You-Are-Here. Now that there’s no ToC, and I am reading a Help topic, it might sometimes help if I looked a little bit to the left and right and read some more. Something like, “You are reading about installing the licenses. Before this, you must’ve got your licenses. After this, you’ll be configuring the client systems” in a clickable flow-diagram.


What if all UI fields had examples. When the computer throws a wizard page at me, with fields to fill up, I am never sure if what I type in is the correct information. Can “Location” be a remote one too, with http:// and all, or is it just a local drive. I don’t like clicking that tiny question mark next to the field only to be told “It’s MM/DD/YY stupid, not DD/MM”. What if every field had an example there for me to look at and exclaim “Ah, I see!”


What if my search was tailor-made for my task? So, now that the question mark next to the UI field need not tell me what to fill up in the fields, what will it do? What if it opens a page for me that shows the results of a predefined search – a search based on the UI screen I was at (and related to the task I was doing) when I clicked the question mark?


What if the UI had embedded cheat sheets? Instead of ClickAndDo or SeeAndDo tutorials (which are fun to make, by the way), what if, when I am unsure of what to do, instead of having to read the Help or watch a video, there’s a cheat sheet that guides me along (thus assuring me I won’t mess up the system and cause the computer to come apart at its screws).


What if I had on-the-spot troubleshooting. What if, instead of an error message telling me what went wrong, there’s something that helps me correct the error? Why not pop up a wizard with which I can do that which should have been done in the first instance?


What if wishes were horses? Why, I’d gallop along on my tasks with nary a roadblock in sight.

About the author:

Anindita Basu is a technical writer with the Rational Software lab of IBM. She can be reached through ab.techwriter@gmail.com.

About the illustration:

The image is used by permission from Aditi Barve.

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