Managing Help Files -Reply

Subject: Managing Help Files -Reply
From: Bill Sullivan <bsullivan -at- SMTPLINK -dot- DELTECPOWER -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 10 Apr 1997 10:28:25 -0700

>> I need the benefit of other people's experiences. I am currently
working on a Help system for a very complex piece of software. <snip>
I am finding myself having to go over the same ground over and over
again as I'm am ordered to switch from one task to another,
willy-nilly. I also find myself loosing track of where I am.

I don't know if you are asking for intra-organizational help or
psychological help. I would think that if you had a simpatico boss
you could have sent this message to him or her and quietly worked out
the difficulties.

I don't know if anyone who has never done it can appreciate the focus
and concentration needed to do online help. I consider myself capable
of working in a very noisy environment full of every imaginable
distraction. But when I start working on a help project, I literally
find myself shutting down my hearing and my other senses. The
distractions are a hindrance. My life becomes a constant struggle to
remember that if I make one fix in one place I must also fix other
places, and did I? Yesterday I must have spent a good hour trying to
get a macro to work, and then I called RoboHelp help and found out
that I had been told to use the wrong macro. People who live normal
lives have no idea about the cares and concerns of an online help
writer.

One thing I have done in times such as the ones you describe is to
come in on Saturday when it's quiet. Working as little as 2 or 3
hours with nobody around seems to have a good and a restorative
effect on me. Another possibility, although I have never done it, is
to ask for a network connection between your home computer and your
office so you can work at home. Or, perhaps you could install your
software on your home computer and e-mail or carry the working files
back and forth -- a variation on the telecommute theme.

Another possibility is to ask for help from other writers -- perhaps
think about bringing in a temporary writer to help. Remember that the
online help does not have to be in a single doc/rtf file. You can make
your help project a smorgasboard of several files, and you could
assign the writing of a given file to a given person. At a minimum,
you could ask the other person to give you a simple file in a word
processor; you could insert it into the help project or cut and paste
as needed. At the maximum, the other person would be able to navigate
through a file of help topics and understand details like context
strings.

Bill Sullivan
bsullivan -at- deltecpower -dot- com
San Diego, California

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