Creating context sensitive help?

Subject: Creating context sensitive help?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 17 Jul 2002 10:01:38 -0400


Priyadarshi Tripathy reports: <<I have been assigned to prepare a
feasibility plan for creating a context sensitive help for a comparatively
huge application. All that I have with me is a readymade User Guide (of
nearly 400 pages) in word doc and its pdf
version. Is employing of a tool like Robohelp the only way to create a
context sensitive help?>>

If you already have documentation written in Word, and are willing to rework
the information heavily to make it suitable for online use, then RoboHelp is
a logical choice because you'll be able to reuse lots of the information
already written in Word. If you search the techwr-l archives, you'll find
information on dozens of other ways to create online help, including
Dreamweaver + DevaTools, Frame + Webworks Publisher, ForeHelp, Doc-to-Help,
and Microsoft's own "help workshop". Which one to use depends on the type of
help file or files you need to create (WinHelp, HTML Help, JavaHelp, Web
help, etc.), your budget, and your familiarity with the tools. Start with a
list of what you need to create, then see which tool lets you do that.

<<how much time should it take to create such an online help>>

If you already understand the application you're documenting, and thus, most
of your research is already done, the task becomes fairly simple. If you
need to research all the fields because they're not already documented in
the Word manual, then it'll take you longer, particularly if you can't
easily ask the developers for help. To estimate the time requirements, list
all the menu choices, dialog boxes, interface items (e.g., icons), and
fields and buttons within each dialog, then estimate how long each one will
take to complete. You can simplify this task by estimating (for example)
that every field, icon, or other interface item will take 15 minutes, them
multiply that time by the number of things to document.

Two notes:
- That 15 minutes depends entirely on you--it might be 30 minutes if you're
just learning the software or if the research is complicated, or it might
take 5 minutes if all the fields are obvious (e.g., "type your family name
here").
- Always increase the time estimate by 50% to allow for delays (e.g.,
someone is on vacation, a staff meeting costs you a morning's work) and
other unforseen occurrences (e.g., one field requires hours of research).

<<I am very new to Robohelp and the application is a big one.>>

To create useful online help, focus on the essential features and ignore all
the flashy extras that RoboHelp (and other software) provide: You must be
able to create a topic, create jumps within and between topics, add index
keywords to each topic, and insert graphics. Everything else is unnecessary,
even if using it could improve the help system; improve the help during the
next release, but right now, concentrate on making it helpful. Spend a few
hours practicing how to use these four features to create simple help files,
and once you acquire these skills, start using them on the real help file.
It's a good investment of your time.

--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada
"User's advocate" online monthly at
www.raycomm.com/techwhirl/usersadvocate.html
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a
personality, and an obnoxious one at that."--Kim Roper

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