The role of help resources in users' solution patterns: Comparison of methods

Edith Elizalde, University of Texas at El Paso


Some studies have shown that only 3 to 4 percent of computer users use on-line documentation and only 0 to 1 percent use printed documentation. This is a small percentage, considering that most users encounter problems while using software. These studies reflect either that the documentation is not useful or that the users have found better ways to obtain information about how to use the software applications. ^ To answer why users do not read the available documentation and whether documentation should be modified to accommodate the needs of the users, I conducted an exploratory study among people who use software applications at work. The study comprised two phases. The first phase consisted of individual phone interviews about the software applications they use at work, the problems they have, how they solve them, and general questions about different types of documentation. The second phase of the study consisted of in-person, on-site observations of a subset of the subjects; this phase helped me validate the information gathered during the interviews. ^ The results of study indicated that some people are not aware of the documentation that is available to them, and that those who are aware of the documentation do not feel comfortable enough to use it. Additionally, the interviews indicated paradoxically that documentation is too technical for some users, while it is too simple for others. Finally, for most users, using documentation is more difficult than starting over or asking a colleague for help. Additionally, the study showed that there are other factors, such as the user's environment that influence the way users approach the software problems they encounter. It also showed some of the limitations of the first phase of the study and provided insight into understanding users and future work to solve the documentation problem.^

Subject Area

Information Science|Computer Science

Recommended Citation

Elizalde, Edith, "The role of help resources in users' solution patterns: Comparison of methods" (2008). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1453844.