C2/D7. Difficulty locating or understanding help information

Situation Definition:

A situation that arises when a user cannot find relevant help information; when the available help information is not easy to understand; or when the available help information is not useful for the task at hand.

Factor(s) Leading to the Situation:

    • Complex information presentation:

    • Complex information presentation:

    • Complex information presentation:

    • Inadequate help information:

    • Inadequate knowledge:

    • Inadequate knowledge:

    • Unclear instruction:

Guideline or Design Recommendation:

    1. Offer help information relevant to all tasks supported by a DL
    2. Assist users in finding relevant help information
    3. Ensure help information is understandable to users of all ability levels
    4. Explain how to perform various functions of a DL in a meaningful way

Rationale and Objective:

Users accessing DL help information are usually those who are seeking additional information about or instructions on how to use DL features. For

users, help should be presented in clear language in textual form.  Explanations should use common words rather than jargon, as concise as possible, providing an accurate explanation of the purpose and offerings of the DL. When users need more information about something they don’t understand, it is helpful to provide links to related information. Maintaining consistent structure across help pages helps users to better understand help information on various help pages.

Techniques and Methods:

1.1. Set up a schedule to review and update help pages
1.2. Map each help section to each of the tasks supported by a DL
2.1. Include links to

within general help
2.2. Provide an overview of the help topics
2.3. Provide a link for general help at the top of every DL page.
2.4. Divide help information into short sections and subsections, using heading tags such as <H2> and <H4>
2.5/3.1. Organize various sections of the help page in a consistent structure and format
3.2. Use simple language with common terms rather than jargon or professional language
3.3. Use sight-independent instructions or provide alt text or descriptions for visual instruction to present help information
4.1. Provide step-by-step directions with examples in completing specific tasks in context-sensitive help or solving common problems (e.g., FAQ)
4.2. Include specific help tips for screen reader users

Recommended Features:

1.2. Comprehensive help coverage (See example 1.2/2.2)

(See example 2.1.a/2.1.b)
2.1. Links to context-sensitive help (See example 2.1.a/2.1.b)
2.2. Help overview (See example 1.2/2.2)
2.3. Prominent help link (See example 2.3)
2.4. Heading tags (See examples 2.4.a and 2.4.b)
2.5/3.1. Consistent structure and format (See example 2.5/3.1)
3.2. Simple language (See example 3.2/4.1.a)
3.3. Nonvisual instruction or alt text/description (See example 3.3)
4.1.a. A Step by step instruction (See example 3.2/4.1.a/4.1.b)
4.1.b. Examples (See example 3.2/4.1.a/4.1.b)
4.2. Screen reader tips (See example 4.2)


1.2/2.2. Comprehensive help coverage and providing help overview: Good design

Help articles are laid out into sections, and give an outline is provided. The quantity and type of help are appropriate to the user (Artstor).

Artstor Support page with sectioned help options for Access, Searching, OIV (Offline Image Viewer), Groups, Sharing & Collaboration, Personal Collections, Images & Objects, Citations & Copyright, and Library & Administrator Resources

2.1.a/2.1.b. Context-sensitive help and link: Good design

In the general “Help” page, context-sensitive help is provided and also indicated by hyperlink.

HathiTrust help interface featuring context and hyperlinks to other sections

2.3. Prominent help link: Good design

Help link prominently located at the top of the page in the header navigation so users can always find and access the “Help” page at the same location.

HathiTrust interface with Help feature located within horizontal menu on top of page

2.4.a. Heading tag: Good design

Search Tips in DPLA use heading tags to divide help information into short sections and subsections.

Search tips page featuring hierarchy of heading tags to separate information: <h1> Search Tips, <h2> Searching for items in DPLA, <h2> How to explore/refine/navigate your search results, and <h3> Refine

2.4.b. Heading tag: Bad design

Sub-sections are divided by special characters, and no heading tag is applied.

Keyword Search interface with no heading elements applied with added message "No heading, but use a special character"

2.5/3.1. Consistent structure and format: Good example

Artstor has a consistent design in every section of the Help page.

Sections on help page such as Images & Objects and Groups with consistent format of headings

3.2/4.1.a/4.1.b. Step-by-step instruction with simple language and examples: Good design

Search Tips in DPLA uses simple language and provide step-by-step instruction for how to search and narrow down search results.

Search Tips instructions for DPLA that specifies How to explore/refine/navigate your search results, Refine, Display, and Sort order of results

Continued Search Tips for How to further narrow your search results including Exact phrases ("dog shows"), Boolean operators (OR, NOT, default as AND), Wildcards (* for substituted characters), and Keywords (use more specific or broader words for search term)

3.3. Nonvisual instruction or alt text/description: Good design

The following search help uses textual examples rather than visual examples so that BVI users can easily read it using their screen reader software.

Search Help with text-based examples such as "Civil War map" for exact phrase searching and "civil war" maps for exact phrase and keyword search

4.2. Screen reader tips: Good example

HathiTrust provides screen reader tips and their coverage of current accessibility.

Accessibility page within About section, featuring information such as Statement of Accessibility, Accessible Text Request Service, Accessibility information about books in the HathiTrust collection, Tips for navigating the HathiTrust Digital Library, Known accessibility issues, and contact information

Related Resources:

    1. Snell, S. (2009). Clear and Effective Communication in Web Design. Retrieved from https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/02/clear-and-effective-communication-in-web-design/
    2. W3C. (2018). WCAG 2.1 Guideline 3.1 Readable. Retrieved from https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG21/#readable

See also:

Help-seeking Situations > C. Difficulty with help

Help-seeking Situations > D. Difficulty locating specific information, items, or features