When help and manuals go wrong

help and manuals go wrong [Featured]

Almost everyone has at least one help related horror story to tell. Whether it is about trying to understand a product when the help manual has been written in such poor English that it is unintelligible, or a product that has shipped with a manual for entirely the wrong model. Perhaps the story is about one of those manuals that are packed so full of details that there is too much information and it becomes almost impossible to find the answer you need quickly. There are many ways that help manuals can go wrong but in general they can usually be broken down into two main areas:

  • The manual is out of date or has the wrong information
  • The manual is poorly written or is difficult to navigate

A lot of these problems with help manuals occur because the authors of the manuals are over-stretched, and trying to do too much, too fast. Often the help authors are the same people who are developing and marketing the product, and frequently the manual is the last thing they think about. Ensuring the product is fully complete and tested always takes priority. Then there is a rush to get the product into the marketplace, and the manual is not something there is much time to write.
Writing a good manual from scratch can take a lot of time, especially if the product is quite a complex one.

What’s the solution?

It isn’t likely that technical writers will be given a long time to write the manual and if a good manual can’t be written in the time available, are we going to have to put up with second-rate manuals for ever?
Fortunately for help authors, there is a simple solution. If you use a Help Authoring Tool (HAT) to write your help documentation you can produce a high quality manual quickly, without worrying about formatting problems, or the manual being difficult to navigate.
HelpNDoc and other help authoring software provide authors with a fully featured word processing environment, and a suite of tools to make the lives of authors easier. You can add pictures and videos to your help files with only a few clicks. Using the topic editor allows you to check that all of the important topics you need to cover have been included in the documentation. Once you have the document looking just the way you want it, you can output the file into as many formats as you need. These include PDF, HTML, or even ePub, or Kindle eBook so your users can read the manual on their e-readers.
These are all helpful features, but for most authors the real benefits of using a HAT can be seen when the manual needs to be updated. With such tools all of the formatting is done for you, so instead of needing to reformat the content after each change you simply edit the section you need to update and output the file again. If you need to change a picture or other media element then you can do so with only a couple of clicks. HAT’s make producing manuals faster, and easier than ever before.

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