Publication Date

October 2006

Document Type



Few users of computer applications seek help from the documentation. This paper reports the results of an empirical study of why this is so and examines how, in real work, users solve their usability problems. Based on in-depth interviews with 25 subjects representing a varied cross-section of users, we find that users do avoid using both paper and online help systems. Few users have paper manuals for the most heavily used applications, but none complained about their lack. Online help is more likely to be consulted than paper manuals, but users are equally likely to report that they solve their problem by asking a colleague or experimenting on their own. Users cite difficulties in navigating the help systems, particularly difficulties in finding useful search terms, and disappointment in the level of explanation found.