RE: Need help with Help

Subject: RE: Need help with Help
From: "Downing, David" <david -dot- downing -at- fiserv -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 11 Mar 2009 08:58:31 -0500

From: Aviva Wulfsohn <AWulfsohn -at- ecipay -dot- com>
Subject: Need help with Help

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!

Thank you in advance!
Aviva

--------------------------------------------

Don't feel too bad. I've been working as a tech writer for almost 17 years and have only worked on one major help project.

The main thing to keep in mind is that information must be organized completely differently in a help file than in a printed manual. It has to be organized as a set of small chunks, each of which addresses a very specific topic, such as a specific control or field on a screen. You can create help topic for introductory/background material, but these must be kept separate from everything else.

I remember one big bug-a-boo that I ran into was having to depend on the developers to give me ID numbers to assign to the help topics. Sometimes I wasn't sure which control they were referring to for a given ID number, and sometimes I would get lists of numbers from multiple developers that conflicted with each other. But even if I hadn't had those two general problems, the loss of autonomy was a major issue.

David Downing
Senior Technical Writer
Credit Union Solutions
Fiserv
 
 

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