Date of Graduation

Spring 2017


Master of Arts in Writing



Committee Chair

Rhonda Stanton


online help systems, usability, color, headings, hyperlinks, visuals, document design, technical communication

Subject Categories

Technical and Professional Writing


Document design is an essential part of print, and more recently, web documents, but recent application to the usability of document design in the current iteration of online help systems has been lacking. As an attempt to fill this gap, I conducted a study testing three document design principles—color, navigation structures (headings/hyperlinks), and visuals—to determine how they should be applied in online help systems to increase usability. I constructed an online help system for the online infographic creator Piktochart, and used these three principles according to theories and practices from prior research on print and web documents. Participants used the constructed help system to complete a task-based scenario using Piktochart. The results show that participants’ main criteria for successful usability is that the help system aids them in understanding the program and completing tasks efficiently with minimal frustration. Participants preferred a cohesive and consistent design that allowed them to find what they needed quickly, and to be oriented to the task they were trying to complete. If the three principles helped in these regards, they were deemed effective by the participants. Technical communicators should understand how to best apply document design principles to the growing medium of online help systems.


© Meghan M. Smith

Open Access