How to help users find help topics

Hi DONATION advisors. I’m often surprised when talking to users on the phone, or via things that come out in email exchanges, that they don’t seem to know how to find help by topics we give them or by sensible keywords (like for instance “pledge” if they want to know about pledges).

This is despite the fact that I at least think the menu option Help -> Contents and Index should be pretty obvious (especially when we’ve told them to look something up in the Index of the Help) and also, there is the menu option Help -> How to Use Help.

I’m wondering about the idea of adding a Help -> Search by Topic or Keyword menu option, which just pops up a messagebox saying something like this:

 To search for Help by a topic title or a word related to what you want to know, please use the Help -> Contents and Index menu option, make sure you are on the Index tab near the top left, and type what you are looking for into the entry field below those tabs.

Alternatively, you can use the Help -> How to Use Help menu option, which takes you to a Help page with full details about how to use the Help. Would you like to see that page now?

                              Yes     No

Do you think that would help some people find help topics without us having to guide them very explicitly through it? We’d appreciate your comments.



15 thoughts on “How to help users find help topics

  1. You might just confuse them! Anyone who can’t use your help features obviously needs to take computer 101.

    Mike Cornell

    *Mike Cornell*

    General Manager, WRVM Inc.

    P.O. Box 212

    Suring, WI 54174


    */Listen Live online at /*.

  2. Hi Dan, To me the help->contents and index is obvious, but I know that sometimes what seems obvious to me does not seem so to someone else. I don’t think it hurts to err on the side of too many options, just to make sure everyone is looked after.

    Could it also be that some people can’t be bothered to look up things themselves and just want to be told the answers? If so, it won’t matter what other options you give them.


    • Thanks, Caroline. This is for those people that we are trying to get to read a specific help topic, but don’t seem to know how to find help topics. I am extremely resistant to trying to talk users through stuff that is covered in help topics, unless they are really truly already read the topic and are still confused or unsure!

      And yes, I’m aware that those of you who subscribed to the blog are the worst audience for this question, because you are likely to be people who have already figured stuff like how to find help topics out!

  3. Dan: There will always be someone who just wants to call for an answer but having a search by keyword may reduce the calls you get.

  4. Dan:

    My first reaction is to say that if they can’t find the help topics the way it is set up now, they not likely ever will. I know that is not likely what you want to hear, but you know how “computer illiterate” I am – and I have never had any difficulty finding the help I required the way it is set up now.

    Hope this helps.


    Margie Cameron

    RR#1, Thorburn, NS

    B0K 1W0


  5. My comments are like those of the others here – it seems what is offered now should be sufficient. But we seem to be in an age where software offers several ways to get to the same result, so maybe one more method of pointing to the Help content would not be harmful.

  6. I am not near a computer for a few days to look, but, if I remember correctly, your suggestion makes your wording more similar to the wording other software uses. If that is the case, I’d do it. I basically feel somewhat standard wording has evolved for many help programs and the more you stick with this standard wording, the less likely you are to have confusion… even if your wording is superior.

    • Maybe you can take a look and send any further comments, David. My suggestion is not to change any current wording, but to add another menu option, with alternate wording that some users might find spoke to them better, which gives the message I suggested in my original post above, with the option to go to the “How to Use Help” page. (Another option might be to change it so the words on the buttons of that messagebox are “Go to Help Contents and Index”, “Go to How to Use Help”, and “Cancel”.)

  7. I agree with the comment earlier that the more ways you have to let people use Help, the better. It may seem redundant, but If it helps just a few users it’s worth it.

  8. Good morning,

    I find the help topics are set up well. Also if we are not understanding a topic, the support that you give is excellent.


    Discipleship: Discovery, Development, Deployment

    Bernice Funk, C.P.A., C.G.A.

    Director of Finance

    Diocese of Rupert’s Land

    935 Nesbitt Bay

    Winnipeg, MB R3T 1W6

    phone: direct: 204-992-4201 toll free: 1-866-693-4418

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    • Thanks, Bernice, though this really doesn’t address the question that this blog post is about, which is better helping users who don’t know where to go to find a topic in the Help when we tell them, for instance, “you can read about that in the Help topic Network Versions of DONATION”, or any other topic title. They don’t figure out that the Help -> Contents and Index menu option will take them the help file, where they can then look things up in the Index. That’s what I’m looking for further ideas to help them with.

  9. Pingback: How to Help Users Find Help Topics (2) | Software4Nonprofits DONATION Blog

  10. Just installed the latest Beta version 3.82b Beta 1 to check out the help changes. I would tend to echo Mike and Caroline’s comments about the obvious. The help system in Donation is the same help format that’s been around since Windows 95. I would expect most computer users should know how to use the help system. However, I’m also speaking from a background of having used computers since my high school days when we learned Fortran and WatFIV on a VAX11/780!

    Anyway, the additional option of “Search by Topic or Keyword” –> Open Help to Use Index (button) should help make things clearer for new computer users. I’ve also taught computers for several years in a night course at a community college. I can attest that there ARE many folks out there who are NOT familiar with computers, so even that extra bit of direction might be helpful for them. My only comment would be that clicking the button to search by topic or keyword (in the new dialog window) doesn’t actually start the help on the Index or Search tabs. Is there anyway to do that?


    • Thanks, Drew. Actually unfortunately, no, you can’t control what tab the Help file opens on (Contents, Index or Search). It generally opens to the last tab you had it open on, or the Contents if it’s your first time. That’s why the messagebox says to switch to the Index tab.

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