Writing a help manual can often be an intensely frustrating process. Everyone understands that the ultimate aim is to create a manual that helps your users solve their difficulties with your products and understand all their functions. The difficulty lies in working out how to get there. Most authors will have had the experience of staring at a blank piece of paper or screen, wondering how to start their latest book or article. When writing help documentation the main problem is deciding how to approach the subject.
Identify your product functions
The simplest way to begin is to identify all of the separate functions of the product and then write about each one in turn.
It is helpful to explain what the purpose of each function is at the start of each section, not simply to provide a step by step guide. Not all users are going to be as familiar with your product as you are and they may not appreciate everything that they can do with the product. Many of us have been in a situation where we have bought a product to do one thing and later discovered that it is possible to also use it in another way, or to do something else with it that we didn't even think about when we made the purchase.
Benefits of using a HAT
One of the easiest ways to write your help document is to use a HAT or Help authoring tool. You can write your manual using the built-in word processor just like you would on a standalone word document, but you also have the opportunity to take advantage of the many extra features included in the software package.
Using these features will allow you to build your help manual faster, and let it be easily updated whenever you need to take account of a new product version becoming available.
These features include:
- A topic editor – You can quickly review all of the topics you have written about and ensure that each subject has been covered thoroughly and in a way which is easy for the product user to understand.
- A media library – Being able to add media elements, such as pictures, and videos to your document can save you a great deal of writing, and explain some features very easily.
- Multiple format generation – Create help documents in a wide range of formats so that your users can access the information they require in whichever way is most convenient for them. You only need to write the document once and it is already formatted for every type of document you need. Options include PDF, ePub, HTML, etc.
- Conditional Content Generation – If you want to create slight differences between similar help documents, maybe to allow for different product versions, or for documents being produced in different formats then you can employ conditional content generation to do this very easily.
Help Authoring Tools are the best way to write your help documents fast, and provide your product users with the highest level of service so they can find the answers they need fast.