Did you ever notice that the help text is not always so helpful?

It-Goes-Without-Saying Department

In the tutorial of a product called "EDI*Expert", I ran across this tidbit of information:
The ELEMENT TYPE is the type of the element.

In a similar vein, here's a quote from our "metrics gathering" instructions:

The “Brief Description” box should contain a brief description.

The same kind of logic put this in a company newsletter I received:

what's new@infoCentre tells you what's new at infoCentre

Here is the description for a script named "Load Data into Nursing Home Group Description Table":

The Load Data into Nursing Home Group Description Table job script loads data into nursing home group description table.

I never would have known this if they hadn't told me:

A status of "IN PROGRESS" indicates that a RACFID is in progress.

In a document about installing an Oracle product, we have this admonition:

Remove all Oracle components from your computer only as a last resort, and only if you want to remove all Oracle components from your system.

In a Unix manual, for the "grep" command (which searches for a string of characters in a file), I saw this:

A regular expression enclosed in parentheses matches a match for the regular expression.

Here is the content of the help screen for message number NAT3041 of Software AG's 4GL Natural:
             ****NATURAL HELP FUNCTION****
              - ERROR MESSAGE - NAT3041 -
     ERROR DETECTED IN FORMAT BUFFER.
TX *** SHORT TEXT ***
   ERROR DETECTED IN FORMAT BUFFER.
EX *** EXPLANATION ***
   AN ERROR WAS DETECTED IN THE FORMAT BUFFER.
AC *** RECOMMENDED ACTION *** 
   CHECK PROGRAM AND CORRECT ERROR

Also in the now-why-didn't-I-think-of-that-department was this bit of wisdom from Epson:

. . . troubleshooting printer problems is best handled in two easy steps: first diagnose the problem, then apply likely solutions until the problem is fixed.

Using Windows Explorer, I created an empty MSWord document in a given folder. Upon opening said document, I saw a bit of useful information in the bottom-left corner, i.e. that the document contained zero characters. The funny thing was the parenthetical note:

blahblah.doc: 0 characters (an approximate value)

I can't leave this category without sharing in this excerpt from the "EDI/Open V3.2 User Guide." It tells where to insert the tabs included with the loose-leaf manual:
Insert this tab Before
Mapping Chapter 1, Mapping
Trading Partner Relationships Chapter 2, Trading Partner Relationships
Communications Chapter 3, Communications
Mailbox Chapter 4, Mailbox
Administration Chapter 5, Administration
System Parameters Chapter 6, System Parameters
Export and Import Chapter 7, Export and Import
Troubleshooting Chapter 8, Troubleshooting
Glossary Glossary
Index Index


I've Been There, My Friend

Here are some examples of help text messages from a product I used to work on called CMS: Then I worked on RAD, whose help text was much easier to understand: When we implemented a project management method called GSMS, we learned that they had an unusual system of version numbering (or they had discovered the secret of time travel). Here are a couple of lines from their documentation:

English As A Fourth-Generation Language

Apparently you don't have to have a high level of linguistic skill to be hired to do software documentation.

Here is a message from a backup/restore command I used to use:

DIRECTORY NOT EXISTS
This prompt came from a graphics program:
Warning this operation is cannot be undone continue?
Microsoft blessed us with this one:
Plesae Wait
Premenos has a demo writer who are unfamiliar with the word "is":
There are a vast array of options.
The bottom half of the screen are . . .
And this was actually in the instructions for an "educational" course we were required to take:
When your ready to close, . . .
Computers are logical, so it's up to us to be creative. The CSAO Launcher software instructs users:
Just pick any five letters that don't already exist.

In-Line Documentation That's Out Of Line

When you look at the source code, you find internal comments that don't change the way the software works but are supposed to help other programmers with maintenance.
Here's one that's fun to say aloud:
Repoint the pointer to a new point to point to.
And this one is packed with meaning . . . I think:
Horse string length into correctitude.
If you're having trouble understanding, you can ask for help from a more experienced programmer. You could get valuable information like this:
Both let/set vs. if defined/clearing the variable will work. Hope that helps.
I've even been known to offer a little help in programming languages:
The precedence of the logical operators is NOT, AND, OR, not AND, OR, NOT or NOT, AND, OR, and not OR, AND, NOT.

Paradox Lost

Nothing like contradicting yourself. That's not true. This was on a website:
Currently no more information is available. Click here to read more.

And of course we all dread the day when the message on the screen says this:
Keyboard not found. Press F1 to continue.

Along the same lines, I received the following in a broadcast E-mail.
(These are excerpts.)
If you are having problems printing . . .
Please follow the instructions below . . .
(Hint: Print these instructions for reference during this procedure.)
. . .

This notice appeared in the licensing agreement for some palmtop software:
Pro Concepts warrants that the Program, unless modified by you, will perform substantially in accordance with the accompanying documentation for a period of ninety (30) days from the date of delivery to the original licensee.
It makes it look as if the documentation writer had the math skills of a five (2) year old.

Maybe in the next case, the help text makes sense, but the software doesn't:
CAS Timecard function will be available July 31 for eligible employees (working 40 hours a week). Timecard allows employees to record hours worked.
Let's see . . . they want employees to record how many hours they worked, but only if they worked forty hours?


Always Read And Follow Label Directions

On a Canon product, I repeatedly saw a readout that said, "Please wait momentarily." I never knew why I couldn't wait immediately.

I was trying to learn from the manual of a product called ECMap, when I noticed the following two quotes in adjacent paragraphs:
When you regenerate a compliance map, you must use Generate Compliance Map on the Utility menu and not Generate Map on the Build menu.
To regenerate a compliance map, choose Generate Map on the Build menu on the main ECMap screen.

You've probably seen on-line instructions that say "Press Enter To Exit." No wonder when leaving the building I keep pulling on that door marked "Push."

When I started using Microsoft Windows, I noticed that when it was time to stop, the first thing I had to do was click on "Start". How very intuitive! Why doesn't that work on my clothes dryer?

Similarly, here are some LOGON instructions I came across:
To log on to the network
1. Click Start, and then click Logoff.

Now, after years of having to use Ctrl-Alt-Del to stop everything, I am using a new OS that requires me to use Ctrl-Alt-Del to get everything going.

Honestly, if the software asks you a yes-or-no question and gives you two buttons from which to choose, shouldn't those buttons be labeled "Yes" and "No"? Instead, we get stuff like this:
Do you want to discard
any changes?
  
There's room for improvement here, don't you agree? (Please answer by saying "cancel" or "continue." I will know what you mean.)

On the other hand, once I got a dialog box offering a yes-or-no choice when it wasn't even asking a question!

Here's another one that frustrated me. While working with diskettes, I received this message:
The disk in drive A is not formatted. Do you want to format it now?
This one did have a "Yes" button. I clicked on it. Then I had to choose "Format type." The default selection was "Quick." I accepted the default and clicked on "Start." I got this message:
You cannot do a Quick format because the disk is not formatted. . . .
First of all, why give me a choice if I can't make a choice? Why not just do it the only possible way? And why call this "Quick" procedure "formatting" if it can't be done to a disk that is unformatted? Maybe I would have understood "Reformatting" better than "Quick."

While logging in to some system, I received this message:
  Invalid password. Please reenter.  
Now, why on earth would I want to reenter that password if it was invalid!?

If I'm just being stupid here, please E-mail me and straighten me out, but what exactly constitutes "converting" in the following case?

convert Microsoft Visio Drawing to Microsoft Visio Drawing

I had a similar question about exactly what needed to change when I saw this message pop up:
This webpage is bested viewed with screen resolution 800*600.
Then I realized they were pulling my virtual leg. (The "is bested" should have tipped me off.)

On another website, you are instructed to provide information but not given any place to put it. It simply says:
To get started, provide the following information, then click Begin.

To witness a conversation I had with Microsoft Word, click "HERE".
HERE

Finally, I believe that this is the least helpful error message I have ever received:

And this is the least helpful help screen:


It's A Numbers Game.

I was wanting a map of Medora, North Dakota, so I went to a certain on-line map generator and entered "Medora, North Dakota." The Search Results message came back saying "We found several maps that might fit your search. Please click on the one you want." This was accompanied by ONE map link labeled "Options 1 of 1."

A similar scenario occurred when I went to a certain on-line "white pages" service looking for the address of "A. Sullens" in "Arlington, Texas." The resulting message was "Your search has returned no results." This was accompanied by three Search Suggestions, the last of which was "A. Sullens" in "Arlington, Texas." Now why didn't I think of that?


I Admit It. I'm Easily Confused.

A notation in an HTML course says this:
Don't confuse headers with headings! The HEAD tags at the top of an HTML document contain information about that page's headers. Heading tags, on the other hand, are used to create headlines.
OK. "Head" is for headers and "heading" is for headlines. Why would I be confused?

During an installation procedure, I was promped with this instruction:
Remove any disks from their drives,
and then click Finish to complete setup.
Upon removing this disk, I received this error message:
There is no disk in the drive.
Please insert a disk into drive E:.

I did enjoy watching the system delete items that I had told it to delete a long time ago but that it didn't really delete because it just moved them to another place and just pretended to delete them until I discovered that they were still taking up space and I had to once again tell it to delete them which it did while giving me the message "Deleting items from the Deleted Items folder."

Speaking of deleting things, once when I tried to delete a file named "FILELIST," I received this error message:
Cannot delete FILELIST: The disk is write-protected.
Remove the write-protection or use another disk.
I never did figure out how to use another disk to delete a file from that disk.

Here is some verbiage I encountered while searching for trouble-shooting information on a paper shredder:
. . . it expressed directly size obliges resort agents mandatory instruction say to vote champion wq120d paper shredder . . .

I once received a maintenance notification that gave these as the hours:
Thursday, May 20th - 9 PM To Thursday May 20th 1 AM
Friday, May 21th - 9 PM To Thursday May 20th 1 AM
During the first maintenance schedule, we will move backward in time twenty hours. Or maybe that "-9PM" means "minus nine at night," in which case I'm stumped.
During the second, I think we will move backward forty-four hours, except that I'm not sure which day is the twenty-oneth.

Speaking of marking time, this was the frequency for a meeting notice I received in Microsoft Outlook:
Occurs every Monday effective 6/14/2004 from 12 AM for 1 week.

For an example of how, in the computer world, our concepts, terminology, and visualizations get mixed up, click "HERE".
HERE

I have gotten hooked on using the various on-line map tools to find out how to get places. For an example of one of those experiences, click "THERE".
THERE