Of this you can be certain: Nobody reads online help. Pity the cadre of writers saddled with the unenviable task of composing manuals and help pages that are published but seldom read. But of course, there’s the rub: It’s not that they’re never read; it’s that they’re seldom read. Like lifeboats on a cruise ship, online help requires effort to build, takes up precious space on the main deck, and, it is hoped, never gets used.

Clicking help is not the first action users take when they run into trouble; more likely, it’s going to be the last. And because it’s a bastion of last resort, meaningful and useful help is critical. You don’t want the passengers to start lowering the lifeboats, only to discover they aren’t seaworthy. Tempting as ...

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