Online help is very helpful indeed
Writing online help pays off
Writing online help instructions pays off. One needs a much smaller helpdesk. Topic based authoring is necessary to set up any online help system. Without modularity online help will fail. It is exactly this modularity that proves to be helpful when writing technical documentation.
Software and… hardware
One normally finds integrated help systems in software applications. However, online help can also stand on its own, providing information on specific hardware. Despite the obligation to print a manual on paper, a manufacturer might want to give its customers an additional modern ‘state-of-the-art’ experience.
Tight on titles
Online help systems come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. However, it is important that any integrated help system is strictly modular. Only then a user can find the relevant information instantly.
This means it is important that each and every task has its own module with a relevant title, like “Changing the fonts” or “Changing the size of the fonts”. Only by creating easy recognizable tasks, it is possible to write a high-quality integrated help system.
Titles are of the utmost importance: if one phrases a title incorrectly, any online help is useless. This also means that the search engine of an online help system should take synonyms into account. When a user types “Adjusting the fonts” it it necessary to include “Changing the fonts” in the search engine.
Not that costly
Because creating an online help system implies a strict and professional way of writing, it seems as if online help is costly. But this is not the case. A modular, topic based approach does away with all background information that is not strictly necessary. Online help can become very compact indeed.
Also, all kinds of tools are available to create topic based authoring. These tools allow creating online help systems efficiently and easily. Tools such as MadCap Flare facilitate the creation of both online help systems and other technical documentation, such as user manuals.
Whatever tool is used for topic based authoring, a modular approach will prove to be very cost effective. After all, any module can be used and reused as many times as possible. It does not matter whether this reuse takes place in an online help system, a quick start guide or a full-blown manual. Last but not least: one can edit modular information very easily. This also saves time and money.
That is why online help systems are not only modern looking, but cost effective as well. If a manufacturer might need a printed manual afterwards, then it almost takes no additional action. Add a table of contents. A user manual is born, or a quick start guide, or an easily searchable PDF file.