RE: Need help with Help

Subject: RE: Need help with Help
From: "McLauchlan, Kevin" <Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>
To: "Aviva Wulfsohn" <AWulfsohn -at- ecipay -dot- com>, <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 10 Mar 2009 11:35:00 -0400

Aviva Wulfsohn asked:

> All,
> I have been a technical writer for 10+ years now and am
> almost ashamed to admit I have never once authored, edited,
> or otherwise touched a help file. Others were always
> responsible or a company did not use them ... whatever. So
> now I have been asked to use Help & Manual to author a help
> system for a reporting program that is replacing Crystal
> reports. Apparently, the company we bought this program from
> used H&M to create it's help files so we need to modify them
> to reflect our company and our software. I hope this makes sense.
> I have no idea where to begin compiling information to put in
> these help files. I've only been on the job here for a little
> over three months so most things are still new to me,
> including our proprietary program and this new reporting
> system. Can anyone advise me how to go about compiling help
> data? Who I should be talking to? How to structure the
> information? I'm also the only writer here!

You seem to be saying that your company bought a system and customized
it, or had the supplier customize on their behalf... But the latter is
unlikely because providing the documentation for the customized system
is usually part of the contract.

I think the first thing you need to find out is how your implementation
differs from what your company bought. So talk to whoever did the
customizing, and see what they've got (or got to say) about what they
If anybody put together any training or briefing on how the modified
system works, then that would be another source of info.

The biggest thing that you need to know is what the actual users are
attempting to accomplish when they use the system. Then start writing
procedures and tips for each task. Someone else can tell you how to get
that text (and screen-caps, etc.) into H&M, and you'll need access to
the back of the customized system (or a programmer will) in order to
insert the hooks for all your instruction and tip files (the help topics
that you'll create), in order to make it context-sensitive. If you
don't have access to the source or the back-end API of the customized
system, then about all you can do is make some stand-alone WebHelp or

- Kevin

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Need help with Help: From: Aviva Wulfsohn

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