Performance support

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The term performance support is used to refer to the provision of support to a user of a product or application, whilst they are using the product. For the Technical Communicator, this normally applies to the provision of instructions that a user can refer to whilst carrying out the task that the instructions describe. Recently, the term has been used to refer exclusively to the electronic provision of this information for software applications, most commonly through embedded help, or context-sensitive links to on-line content. However, traditional paper-based instructions are still tools of 'performance support'.

The term is useful in emphasizing the difference between training material and user documentation. Training is typically something that happens before a user starts using the system, and is aimed at making sure the user is sufficiently prepared to use the system before the actually do so. Training material is therefore designed to be used prior to implementation (of the product). By contrast, documentation is is typically referred to at the same time as the system is being used - that is, after the product has been implemented. Put simply, training instills the skills and knowledge necessary to use a system, whereas performance support facilitates the execution of a task in the system.

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