Evaluating Online Tutorials on Software Applications
by Agnes Lumenta
Nowadays, there are a lot of software applications designed to meet
the need of end users to simplify their work. These software
applications usually come with supporting tools to help users with
system setup and requirements, installation guides, troubleshooting, or
getting-started tutorials. When looking for more information on a
specific topic or “how to” on a software application, users usually tend
to look first on the manufacturer’s Web site. In reality, however, the
result doesn’t always answer our questions, because the manufacturer may
have a wide variety of tutorials that may confuse us, the manufacturer’s
tutorials may be intended for experienced users, or tutorials may be
incomplete because the manufacturer only goes through the basics of the
Taking advantage of Internet technology, some of these end users who
have used these software applications can create online tutorials
intended for various audiences, starting with the novice users up to the
experienced users. However, not all online tutorials are useful
In order to design a good online tutorial, there are criteria that
need to be followed. It is a priority that the reliability of the author
must be presented when designing online tutorials. This is presented by
Digital Education Network (Digital Education Network, 2003), a team of
people that develops Web sites that address the concepts of education.
It provides teachers and parents a means to access online education for
classroom or home use, and introduces students directly to the Internet
education experience. Here, citing the reliability of the authors is
done to gain trust from users. It reassures the users that the tutorials
were created by dependable writers. It would be a plus for the authors
to have certification (if any) for this software, but a simple
explanation of how long and how often the author has used the software,
and how comfortable the author is with the software may be enough.
Included on the page should also be a statement of the tutorial’s
intended audience. For example, the Web site makes it clear whether the
tutorial is for beginners, advanced users, or both. This makes it easier
for users to follow the tutorial later on.
Is it always good to have a page that contains the system
requirements and installation guides for novice users. They may not have
bothered to read this when they installed the software. Along with this
page, it is important for reliability to include a link to the
manufacturer’s Web site.
The beginning of the tutorial should contain basic information on the
software. A recap is allowed if tutorials are intended for the advanced
users; otherwise it is important to include a full explanation of the
basics. The sentences used throughout the tutorial should be simple,
short, clear, and complete. The text or background also should not be
presented in distracting colors.
The use of examples and images plays very important role in
tutorials. Users want to be able to relate what they see in the tutorial
with the actual software. Therefore, screenshots are best to use as
guides. It is very important to remember that images used should be kept
small in file size because there may be a wide variety of connections
made to this tutorial. Large image files can present problems for the
users who are trying to download the tutorial using a modem connection.
Depending on the available technology, it is now possible to make a
simple video clip to capture motion made on the screen. This technology
would help the user to follow the instructions better. Digital Education
Network uses a lot of images on its tutorials. In fact, there are so
many images used in the tutorials that it gets to be too much. The
tutorials look too entertaining and less educational. A good tutorial
example is done by Florida Gulf Coast University (Florida Gulf Coast
University, 2003). The Web site’s Microsoft Word tutorial is simple but
helpful for beginners. The example tutorial contains a lot of helpful
images. The tutorial contains images that are small in file size. The
explanations used in the tutorial are short and straightforward.
For more advanced tutorials, the level of complexity should be
defined so that users can estimate the level of complexity versus their
experience on the software before following the tutorial.
In summary, good online tutorials should be readable and contain
thorough information presented in a short and clear manner. Online
tutorials should contain information on the software version, the
author, and sources that were used.
Digital Education Network. ACT360 Media, Ltd: PowerPoint 98, 2003 (14
October 2003). < http://www.actden.com/pp >
Florida Gulf Coast University. Word 2000 Tutorial, 2003, (14 October
2003). < http://www.fgcu.edu/support/office2000/word/begin.html >