Help Authoring Resources - Instructions, Tools, and Help File Creation Techniques
This website provides a collection of help authoring resources for technical writing professionals. If you work in the field of help authoring and technical communication, here you will find instructions on how to create a help file, how to choose a help authoring tool for a specific project, various checklists, tips, and so on.
About help authoring and technical documentation
What is Help Authoring?
The term "help authoring" is mainly used in the area of computing and information technology and means creation of software documentation such as a help file, online help system, or printed manual. However, the types of documentation produced by help authoring specialists include not only help files for software, but also project plans, white papers, guides, instructions, specifications, financial and other kinds of documents in different areas.
Skill Set for a Help Authoring Professional
Thus, a help authoring specialist may create documentation for use in different areas such as information technology (IT), business, marketing, accounting, and also for consumer audiences. The basic skill set for a help authoring professional includes: solid research, language skills, writing skills, and revision skills.
Additional skills for a help authoring professional may depend on a specific field and include components such as information design, information architecture, localization and translation, development of training material, graphic design and illustration, website management and design, usability and UI development, business processes.
Help authoring skill set
Choosing a Help Authoring Tool
To create a help file or printed manual, you should download a help authoring software that supports the help formats you need. However, selecting a help authoring tool which provides all the required features and, at the same time, fits to your budget, can take a large amount of time since there are various of tools available on the market.
Therefore, we have prepared a table that lists basic and advanced capabilities of a help authoring tool. Also, on our website you will find an overview of different help authoring tools that you can use to create online help files and printed documentation.
In addition, we have collected a set of related software such as screen capture and screen recording applications that you may need in order to illustrate your help file by adding images or for creating a video clip.
End-User Help Files and Documentation
End-user documentation accompanying a software application usually describes all the features of the product and may include step-by-step instructions making it possible for the users to realize these features. For end-user help file, it is important to provide a clear structure, and consistent and simple content, so an average computer user can easily navigate and understand it.
A well-organized help file should include a Table of Contents, and alphabetical Index, and also the Search capability. All these functions allow the user to easily navigate through the help file and to quickly find the answer to his/her question or a solution to a specific issue.
To provide easy navigation, the TOC is usually structured into chapters which are also known as heading items in some help authoring tools, sub-chapters, sub-sub-chapters, and so on. In addition, the order of chapters and topics in the TOC may reflect the frequency of their use by placing the most frequently used items before the less important items.
As to the content of the help file, it should be simple and clear. Providing step-by-step instructions that describe how to perform a particular action or achieve a goal will also help users to solve their tasks quickly. Additionally, a help author can prepare images or even videos to illustrate the content that will provide an excellent assistance to non-experienced users of the application.
To summarize all of these requirements, below you will find a checklist which you can use to control the quality of help files you are creating.
Selecting a help authoring or documentation tool
Help Files in Software Development
In the field of software development, a help authoring specialist usually works on creating technical documentation that explains how to use a software product or how a system operates. The types of documentation may include: end user manuals and help files; technical documentation such as description of UIs, code, APIs used by IT specialists; and also marketing materials used for promotional purposes.
To assist you with providing a help file for your own application, we have prepared a tutorial that explains how you can create a help file in ten steps.
A Help File Creation Checklist
We have prepared a simple checklist that you can use to create a quality help file. Our checklist includes the most important points such as the help file structure, content structure, terminology, content consistency, and help file appearance.
You can find our help file creation checklist by clicking this link.
A checklist to control the quality of your help file
Help authoring forums
Help Authoring Forums
If you want to meet other technical writing professionals, you can visit online forums and conferences listed at this section.
Download a Help Authoring Tool
If you a looking for a suitable tool to create your help file, you can view the Choosing a Help Authoring Tool section for the list of features that you may need to complete a particular project.
Also you can download one of the recommendable help authoring tools which includes support for multiple help formats, an easy-to-use UI, and advanced features such as conditional text.