In software documentation, digital information media have been in practice for a long time. But digital media are also being used more and more in other technical areas, such as mechanical engineering. The aim here is to output the information on the same medium on which the actual operation of the software or product takes place. The information thus becomes kind of a product component. This requires a more intensive coordination of information creation and application development, because in most cases the user information is delivered together with the software.
Classic Online Help
The online help is a classic for user information in the context of software projects. Currently, there are a lot of different formats that are oriented to various development platforms.
Common online help formats are e.g.
Windows Help (hlp)
HTML Help (chm)
Online help is created by our Technical Editors in media-neutral XML format, from which the various help formats can be easily generated. For this purpose we use Content Management Systems or special applications for online help.
Context-sensitivity makes the help very useful.
Online help is particularly valuable if it is context-sensitive. This means that when the help is called, information about the open window of the software is provided and the corresponding help page is displayed. In this way, the user receives exactly the information he or she needs in the current situation.
The linking of software and information is carried out in the classic way via hypertext jumps. The IDs required for this are defined in the software development process and then shared with the Technical Editorial department. This requires intensive coordination between Developer and Technical Editor.
Alternatively, such a link can also be achieved via the PI classification according to Ziegler. This offers greater transparency and flexibility in the creation process in contrast to the static hypertext jumps.
Context-sensitivity can also be used to display information for troubleshooting and error states. For example, it is possible to indicate on the display of a machine the steps to rectify an error or in a car, detailed information when warning lights light up.
A further extension level of the context-sensitive help is Embedded Help. The content is integrated into the software interface, so that the user does not even notice the transition between the software and the information product.
The content displayed in the Embedded Help changes automatically, depending on what the user does in the software. In this way, information is permanently provided about which steps are to be carried out next or how tasks can be made more efficient.
Since the space for embedded help is often limited, it is advisable to display only abstracts here and to offer the user the option to call up the long version of the information by clicking on it.
Calling software or hardware functions from Help
A particularly helpful form of user support can be developed if not only the help can be called from the software, but also if software functions can be started from the help. For example, wizards can be created for complex procedures such as retooling work, in which the users are guided step-by-step or can also start functions independently from the help. In this way, users are ideally guided and errors during the process are avoided.
HTML and HTML5 output
In addition to integrating information into software, there is sometimes a need to provide content in other systems, such as web portals or enterprise applications. In these cases, special XML or HTML formats are often required that can be imported into the leading applications.
The creation of stand-alone HTML5 applications for the distribution of information products can also be a requirement.
Such tasks are quickly solved, thanks to the media-neutral creation in XML format. Here, we can fall back on standardised output routes, which we adapt to customer-specific requirements if necessary, so that the requirements of the target systems can be fully met with little effort.
A special form of Embedded Help is In-App documentation. Here the content is not embedded in PC software, but in a mobile App. The challenge here – especially with Apps for mobile phones – is the limited space available on the display. The technical implementation is routine for our Application Developers; good Technical Editorial concepts are of particular importance here.