I’ve used Adobe Community Help when trying to get answers regarding Creative Suite products. I like the emphasis on searching and the integration of results that aren’t within Adobe’s domain. I think Adobe Community Help is a great example of what help can be: pulling answers and information together from various sources and formats and then showing context in search results.
Software documentation such as Help systems and user guides may be the best method of helping your customers to use your software effectively. However, one or more of these alternatives may be a better solution.
This article presents an approach to Help file design that focuses on creating a task-centered user experience and accommodates an iterative development strategy. This methodology allows the introduction of user assistance into early test phases--not only getting earlier validation for its accuracy, but also supporting quality assurance testing by serving as the test scripts for interactions with the user interface. This approach can also be a self-contained strategy--that is, one that allows an iterative approach to user assistance development even if the rest of product development operates on a waterfall model.
What if online help could be configured to be context-sensitive in a different way than usual? What if, when the user launches the help system, instead of opening to some assigned help topic, it instead runs a preprogrammed search on keywords assigned to that topic?
Caterpillar is dramatically changing the way technical, product support information is authored. Book paradigms have been replaced by the more granular Information Element (IE) approach. The new integrated environment utilizes Unix based, TCP/IP connected, ECALS compliant tools on multi-tasking author workstations. Research data, in-process work approved IE's and relational indices are distributed to work group servers. Application software tools include a graphics editor and an interactive, context sensitive, SGML text editor. The environment is managed by a robust file management system that provides file tracking, revision control, workflow sensitive tool launching, burden planning and management reporting capabilities.
The first time you create a Windows Help file can be very confusing. This paper should help reduce confusion by explaining the basic WinHelp concepts and components, and then walking you through the procedure.
Software user guides have traditionally provided assistance when the user requested help. Context-sensitivity enabled help systems to predict the most appropriate topic to present. For Windows applications, the move from Microsoft WinHelp to the new Microsoft HTML Help format allows user instructions to be presented in the same window as the application. This offers technical authors some extraordinary opportunities to provide intelligent, predictive, interactive help without the user having to request it. In this paper, we will explore one of the first such interactive help systems (for the Archivist e-mail archiving software), and see where the technology is moving.
Makes the case for embedded help as one of the most effective ways to integrate help within an interface. Although it can be difficult, Bleiel illustrates a way to “elegantly implement and map embedded help.”
A browse sequence enables users to navigate through a series of help topics in the sequence established by the help author. Although often omitted from help systems, the browse sequence is useful and will become essential as print documentation diminishes. Effective design options for a browse sequence include multiple segments, rings, branching, and the use of a browse button to take the user to the first topic in the current segment of the browse sequence.
When I gave my own UIE Virtual Seminar last year on Navigation, I got a question from one of the attendees. He said that it was a requirement at his company that the user be able to get to any screen in the product (and there were 1,000+) with no more than 2 clicks. I enjoyed the challenge of thinking about how I'd do it. At the time, I was imagining a massive Site Map of the application, but now I think that perhaps another way to satisfy that requirement would be to implement the kind of searching that Apple has.
As documentation is more and more built directly into the interface, and as technical communicators move into interface design and usability, it is important to have a theoretical framework within which to make decisions about what kind of information will be conveyed at any moment. We can build on basic principles of cognitive psychology to help us make these decisions. We start from a question: Why should users be aware of the difference between interface and documentation when all they want is to get something done?
This presentation describes a strategy to meet a last-minute enterprise demand for online help for a software application program. We established design standards for writing online help, developed a process for gaining consensus from the project team on the content of the online help, and wrote the online help. We accomplished this in less than four months-a task that originally seemed impossible.
During March and April 2003, Cherryleaf carried out an online survey into the current trends in technical communication. One of the questions we asked was: Do the online user assistance documents produced by your organization contain the following advanced capabilities?
Help authoring tools (HATs) are specialized editors and converters to create online technical documentation. Today, many help authoring tools also provide features for single source publishing, which means that you can generate several output formats and versions from one shared text source. While most tools manage to produce different online formats like browser-based help and compiled help very well, only few tools can also produce printed user manuals (or PDF) of professional quality. Big differences also exist between the tools when it comes to translating your projects into foreign languages.
This paper describes some common types of help topic and when to use each. Different applications require different mixes of help topics. Choose the topic types that are appropriate for the application you are documenting.
Recently, there was a lively discussion on the Help Authoring Tools and Techniques (HATT) mailing list about the relative compactness and efficiency of the HTML code produced by various Help authoring tools. As a result of these discussions, several industry consultants decided to collaborate on a project to compare the HTML, CSS, and CHM files produced by a variety of Help authoring tools.
Visual Basic provides several hooks for easily connecting to WinHelp. In addition, you can call the WinHelp API from anywhere in Visual Basic for additional access to help. This document is intended to show you how to hook WinHelp to Visual Basic 5 and later without using add-ons.
Software products have found ways to share content and reuse content to deliver more value with limited resources. For example, fantasy football web sites share player news, injury reports, and game statistics. Security products often reuse security announcements and warnings from trusted sources, and present them as rebranded content. We are also seeing software vendors using Twitter and RSS feeds to distribute information and announcements. The next step is when these information feeds are integrated into the product user interface itself, making it the one stop resource for all the information needs of its users. No more need to use google when your product itself delivers the answers to all your questions from the sources you trust.
The web allows us to easily provide updated documentation to our users, but why stop there? There is more to making users successful quickly than just providing documentation. By creating a complete "Answer Station" that is accessible from the application or product, we can not only direct users to that updated documentation, but we can also provide information about technical support, consulting, training, sales, etc. This paper discusses writing a proposal for an Answer Station, determining content, working with other departments to gather information, designing the site, making that design work with an existing corporate website, dealing with tool issues, and finally, going live.
The web allows us to easily provide updated documentation to our users, but why stop there? There is more to making users successful quickly than just providing documentation. By creating a complete 'Answer Station' that is accessible from the application or product, we can not only direct users to that updated documentation, but we can also provide information about technical support, consulting, training, sales, etc. This article discusses writing a proposal for an Answer Station, determining content, working with other departments to gather information, designing the site, making that design work with an existing corporate website, dealing with tool issues, and finally, going live.
This article is for software developers who have never implemented context-sensitive help. It explains the concepts and the basic types of context-sensitive help. A demonstration application with context-sensitive help is available.
Context-sensitive Help is assistance that is appropriate to where the user is in the software application, and what they are trying to do. Carol Johnston's article describes what programmers and technical authors need to know about Context-sensitive Help.