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Ellen Cushman Introduction to Web Authoring. Class mtg. #10. our syllabus new class page. Today in Class. User Assistance (UA) background UA Genre Analysis Wodtke’s Principles. What is User Assistance?.

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Ellen Cushman

Introduction toWeb Authoring

Class mtg. #10 our syllabus new class page

today in class
Today in Class
  • User Assistance (UA) background
  • UA Genre Analysis
  • Wodtke’s Principles
what is user assistance
What is User Assistance?

A Mini Genre Analysis

  • Background on the UA Genre
  • Authors
  • Readers/Users
  • Format & Features
  • Formality
  • Visuals
  • Range of Variation
ua background
UA: Background

User assistance, aka “help” or “documentation,” is a common genre on the web.

UA comes in two predominant flavors:

conceptual UA: “what is” information

procedureal UA: “how-to” information

Most UA includes some of each. Common examples include recipes, software “quick start” guides, and the famous steps on the back of shampoo bottles: wash, rinse, repeat.

ua authors
UA: Authors

UA is generally created by those with know-how and those with an interest in (be it financial, humanitarian, or otherwise) providing help to users seeking information.

On the web, you can find UA written by manufacturers, by third-party providers, and by users for users in a variety of formats.

ua users





End user


UA: Users

UA is typically targeted to a particular segment of users which fall somewhere on a range from…


ua format features
UA: Format & Features

UA is organized in a task-oriented manner, often in the form of discrete steps which the user follows.


Formats can vary quite a bit in length and style, ranging from whole books (e.g. Web Design for Dummies) to user forums where specific queries are made

Overview of task


Steps 1 through N



ua visuals
UA: Visuals

UA visuals tend to be functional in nature and include text and type elements, graphic elements, diagrams, and pictures. They serve 2 general purposes…


To illustrate a procedure or feature

Arrows that indicate the direction to turn a knob, screen shot highlighting a menu choice

Arrows that point to the next step, type that distinguishes a “Warning”, numbers for steps

To orient the user

ua formality
UA: Formality

The level of formality in UA really depends on the expertise of the audience and how high-stakes the task is.

Very precise language and highly-tested procedures will be used in UA for diffusing a bomb.

UA given on a user forum for a game website might be considerably less formal & reliable but just as precise and technical for advanced users, etc.

ua range of variation
UA: Range of Variation

Scale Changes…

Novice to Expert

Ratio of conceptual to procedural information, amount of technical information, “grain size” of procedures, tone.

Amount of testing done on information, # of options presented to users, # of points of verification along the way, # of warnings & cautions.

Low to High Stakes

ua signs of quality
UA: Signs of Quality

User can understand the information easily and make their way through the procedures without getting lost.

Authors let users know ahead of time what the outcome will be, and what they must do to prepare for the task.

Authors give users a way to gauge progress at every step. And ways to recover from mistakes along the way.

web ua signs of quality
Web UA: Signs of Quality
  • Navigating the UA, in itself, is not challenging.
  • Page layout (e.g. the grid), white space, and visual elements help the user do the task.
  • Interactive features are used to give users feedback (e.g. links to before and after versions)
  • Text is short, always follows the given-new contract, and is tightly integrated with visuals.
wodkte s first principles
Wodkte’s “first principles”
  • Design for Wayfinding
  • Set expectations / provide feedback
  • Ergonomic Design
  • Be consistent
  • Provide error support – prevent, protect, inform
  • Rely on Recognition rather than recall
  • Provide for people of varying skill levels
  • …uh…well, you shouldn’t need #8 (which is provide good user assistance!)

See the link to Wodtke’s page on wa2.htm

good web ua follows wodkte s first principles
Good Web UA follows Wodkte’s* First Principles

Pick 1 of the 3 examples of WebUA on the class home page and look for evidence of each of the features Wodkte mentions. Is it a quality example of WebUA?

  • Wayfinding
  • Set Expectations/Give Feedback
  • Comfort & Safety
  • Be consistent
  • Error support – prevent, protect, inform
  • Recognition vs. recall
  • Tailored for user skill levels

From Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web

for next time
For Next Time…
  • Try out a web-based tutorial for adding a media element to your personal page (e.g. adding a video from comedy central or you tube, adding a sound file, adding pictures from flickR, etc.) Link to the tutorial when you are done.
  • Next week: Information Design for Task-Oriented Communication
  • Read Zeldman - Ch. 7 Bring your book to class!!!