When we build a help system, we want to make it easy to find stuff, and we do our best to anticipate what the reader needs.
So if I’m showing a topic about boiling an egg, I also want to present links to topics on peeling an egg, boiling water, making toast, and buying little egg cups with chickens on them.
So far, so good.
What I’ve seen a lot in help files is the little “Related Topics” (or See Also, or See More) button at the bottom of the topic. Here’s an example from Robohelp’s own online help:
The option to add a Related Topics button is included in help authoring tools, and is so slick and professional-looking that it’s hard to pass up. But I think it’s a mistake.
In usability tests, my group found that people just don’t click that button. Which made us sad, because we’d put good content in there. Maybe I should say we had HIDDEN good content in there.
Why don’t people click the “Related Topics” button?
- They don’t want to click a new item on the screen without knowing the odds of success.
- If they see right away that the current topic isn’t helpful, they rarely scroll down. The Related Topics button is usually down there at the bottom, languishing.
I’ve been putting related stuff on the side, like this:
- It’s easy to judge whether clicking a link will take you to where you want to go.
- The related stuff is at the top of the page, rather than the bottom, so it’s not hidden.
Of course, taking up more room on the side means pushing the help content further down the page, so the reader has to scroll more in order to read the entire topic.
But reading and scrolling isn’t the big problem in finding information. Finding information is the big problem in finding information!