The pitfalls of the Word help system

There are problems with Microsoft help and support materials. This is nothing new. Their support has always been poor and one skill every user needs is the skill to navigate around the limitations.

Accessibility
One way Microsoft has tried to get around this, without actually improving the quality of the help materials, is to make them easier to find. In 2010 there are links there to the "in-built" help and to the on-line help under File, Help. For both you need an active internet connection, and both are geared to the new user, not a current user with a question.

Training for novices
The Microsoft on-line “training” for novices is, for the most part, very good. As novices are the vast part of the Microsoft user base, this has to be a good thing. Although it is tedious for experienced users to go through, and most of us will not take the time, I found it very instructive to learn how Microsoft intends us to be using a particular function. This is often quite different from the way we are using it based on our experience with older versions. http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/support/training-FX101782702.aspx?CTT=97

Information for moderate users
Once we get to the written support, the standard starts sliding. In many cases it seems to be impossible to find the information we want and even when it is there, it is often badly written. These days I don't use the in-built help. Almost invariably nothing I need shows up in the search results. The first port of call for people who are new to the upgrade is http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/support/ although, for Word help, I go straight to http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/word-help/.

This material is just not as good as it should be. Much of the functionality between 2007 and 2010 stayed the same and unfortunately Microsoft did not initially re-brand all of the pertinent 2007 material to 2010. Anyone who has gone straight from 2003 to 2010 will think it is missing. It’s not, but you may have to search the 2007 material for it. In addition, much of it is badly written. At times I have referred to it to fast track training development, and almost all of it has to be significantly re-written to bring it up to basic Australian standards. It is quite clear that Microsoft is not using skilled technical writers to either produce or review this material, and one has to ask why not.

Support for high level users
High level users have to "rough it". Expect a search for the answer to any question to be a magical mystery tour and a game of Russian Roulette combined. You will go on a very circuitous journey and you might just get your answer at the end. Then again, you might not. One thing is certain. You will not find anyone to take responsibility for finding an answer if one is not immediately available. As an example, I, like many others, have lost the functionality to publish a blog post straight from Word to Blogger. I followed this through with dogged determination, and still have no answer.

My routine when I have a question:
http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/support/ for basic questions
http://word.mvps.org/index.html for advanced functions
http://support.microsoft.com/?ln=en-au for technical problems
Google search if all else fails.

Support forums
As with most companies trying to get out of their responsibility to provide good quality information on their products, they are now trying to push that responsibly onto helpful unpaid "experts". They are not alone in doing this; it is an unhealthy and growing trend. I have had absolutely no joy using these forums. http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/office/forum/word

There is also an attempt at something with a facebook group. http://www.facebook.com/MicrosoftWord. This also is largely for novice users, and all my tricky questions have been referred from here to the forum above, so none have been answered. It's a feel-good page designed to soothe frustrated novice users.

Conclusion
In summary, novices have good support, average users have average support, and high level users not only have terrible support but are increasingly being expected to support the other two groups.

13 comments:

  1. There are indeed flaws with Microsoft Word and the Microsoft Office in general. But if one really thinks of it, Microsoft Word is the best word processor available in the market today.

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    Replies
    1. P Stanford8/2/12

      Well, er, yes. But that does not in any way change the fact that the tech support is abysmal; perhaps you mean that that doesn't matter because you're best? An interesting marketing approach.

      Delete
  2. I agree. Microsoft Office is the most user-friendly office productivity suite . I've used many office productivity suites but the best and recommended by tech support experts is Microsoft Office.

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  4. In addition to the Word help resources listed above, there is also a growing collection of Word videos.

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  5. Anonymous6/1/12

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  12. Hi Christine, It's a great article thank you

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