Recently, a colleague sent me a document detailing the DITA message specialization. The document is an HTML Help file, and I noticed that many of the links in the file (which described certain DITA elements) had tooltips which appeared when I held the mouse pointer over them.
I viewed the source of one of the topics in the file, and discovered that the author of the document had added the HTML title attribute to the links, along with a description of each DITA element. It was a simple and effective solution, one which didn’t require any scripting. Overall, it was a nice touch.
Then, I began to wonder how useful something like this actually is.
Does anyone know a tooltip is there?
Tooltips can be useful, but only if you know that they exist. In HTML-based help files that use the method that I mentioned earlier, for example, it takes about a second for a tooltip to appear after you position the mouse pointer over a link. Chances are that before the tooltip has appeared, the user will have clicked the button or the link and moved on.
You can, of course, make the argument that users will have encountered tooltips in the past and will intuitively know that they’re likely to exist. That may or may not be true. But can you safely make that assumption? I only discovered the tooltips in the DITA document because I happened to linger over a link longer than usual because my phone rang.
What are your experiences with tooltips — both as a technical communicator and a user of online help? Feel free to leave a comment.