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Good Help is Hard to Find

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Usually the last system to be implemented, but many times the most important lifeline for the customer, is the software help system. ...

Usually the last system to be implemented, but many times the most important lifeline for the customer, is the software help system.

Ideally, your software system is perfectly understandable and problem-free from lots of user testing and software iteration, but that’s usually not the case. Your customers may get frustrated and leave the site, and may even complain about their crappy experience to others. Providing your customers with effective Help is the last chance you have to turn a frustrating experience into a meaningful one.

As a User Experience professional, what Help strategies should you consider? What content do you need? How do you find an appropriate Help Authoring Tool for your software product? There are many vendor systems out there that offer many features. What do you really need? Attendees will learn about help system considerations such as: how to connect the help system to your software, content management features, content strategy, localization, statistics, and more, which will assist you in finding a solution that helps your frustrated customers become happy customers.

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  • First we’re going to talk about some basic concepts and make sure everyone is on the same page.
  • Example: Online (ProQuest) or installed (MS Word)Your company has worked diligently to create a user friendly software system. But, even though you may have a user-friendly interface, there are inevitably going to be concepts or interactions that are too complex to explain directly in the interface. So….you provide an on demand Help system to provide more information as necessary.
  • In contrast to the software Help system, I wanted to show an Online FAQ. We won’t go into much detail about this today, but we’ll briefly mention it a bit later as part of our content strategy.(Explain examples)
  • The HAT is the behind the scene content management system (CMS) that the technical writer uses to create the Help system that customers see. You might wonder, how is this different than another CMS like Word Press? The major difference is the Help Authoring Tools provide more functionality than Blog/website CMS systems.
  • This is our scenario for today.You just got a big assignment…Don’t worry it will be just fine. It’s ok to learn as you go.
  • For instance for our Professional customers, they need more search syntax information than is appropriate for showing on the page. So it goes in the Help system.
  • Company IT supportDo you have IT support in your organization?Install software for you, and patchesWrangle with language settings – character setsHow long do you usually have to wait?Application Development(are developers available?)Familiar with subversion (can they help you set it up?)Localization experience?HTML/CSS assistance?So now that we’ve considered users, company needs, CMS features and current resources…
  • You probably already know that we’re going with the vendor.But this conversation is definitely worth having. Budget – is there any money left to build a help system in house?Are there developer resources available? Can you hire more people?Timeline?Almost every company will go with the vendor if they can. But if there is a absolute must have feature that you can’t find from a vendor, you’d have to build it yourself, or forgo the feature. But it’s very expensive and just not practical.*******************************The big exception to going with a vendor is that there is a key feature that your users need, but your vendor cannot provide.
  • (says the Detroit Tigers opera singer hot dog vendor!)
  • This is really important! Keep in mind you get what you pay for. Remember another company builds this software, which you have no immediate control over.
  • So you just bought the Help Authoring Tool…now what?
  • So now that you’ve bought your HAT, how do you implement it?
  • (Assuming you have installed version, not web-based software.)
  • (Assuming you have installed version, not web-based software.)Since this software was not developed by your company,You want to make this look like your software, so users don’t think they’ve been taken to another site. They need to understand they are still in your software.
  • (go through bullets)Now that you have the basics working you can consider installing another layer of SVN for multiple authors.
  • SVN is Apache Subversion, which is a revision (or version) control system[talk about slide content]Now that the software is implemented and working, it’s time to plan for content. (In reality a lot of this is going on at the same time, but for the purposes of this presentation we’re pretending everything is linear).
  • There’s only so much room in the UI for explanation. It’s important to determine your strategy for what type of information goes where.
  • A good understanding of the current and future architecture and functionality of your application will aid in planning your content.(go through bullet points)
  • Mr. Jerry Meredith, our lead writer for the Help system, was responsible for our style guide.
  • Localization is the process of translating a product into different languages or adapting a product for a specific country or region.UTF-8 is the dominant character encoding for the world wide web, accounting for more than half of web pages. It can represent every character in the Unicode character set. This means UTF-8 can support Arabic, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Russian, etc
  • Connecting Help to your software
  • Always provide a dependable constant place to find HelpOn any page in your product, the user knows they can access the Help system by clicking on the question mark in the top right hand corner.
  • Another constant place to provide Help information is in the footer.
  • Thanks for your patience today as we plowed through all this information. Do you have any questions?


  • 1. GOOD HELP IS HARD TO FIND Considerations for choosing and implementing effective help systems Elaine Meyer User Experience Specialist, ProQuestGood Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 2. Agenda 1. Introduction 2. Choosing the HAT 3. HAT Implementation 4. Planning for content 5. Designing Help access points 6. Is Help helpful?Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 3. 1. IntroductionGood Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 4. Introduction About Elaine • User experience specialist at ProQuest • 75% Help system implementing/writing and 25% designing functionality for the new PQ platform • SI ‘09 grad – LIS & HCI, MTU BSEE ‘01 • ‘05 – ’07: Application engineer - implemented a vendor FAQ for manufacturing company • www.uxlibrarian.com • Twitter: @uxlibrarian Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 5. Introduction What is a software Help system? Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 6. Introduction Online FAQ • Online FAQ: – Website supporting a physical product (example: Overstock.com) – A service oriented business (like a library) – An FAQ in addition to the software Help system (like ProQuest KB) Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 7. Introduction What is a HAT (Help Authoring Tool)? Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 8. Introduction Scenario • Guess who just got a big assignment? YOU! • You need to chose and implement a software Help system for the online software currently being developed by your organization. • What do you do now? Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 9. 2. Choosing the HATGood Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 10. Choosing the HAT User needs Do your users need additional information that cannot be readily found in your UI? What might users want/need from your help system? Personas – Revisit your personas with a Help system lens. Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 11. Choosing the HAT Company requirements Take some time and figure out what features you want and prioritize them. For example: – Online HAT or installed? – Subversion integration – Language support? – Contextual help? – Browse & search – Cross links – Usage statistics – Social media options Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 12. Choosing the HAT CMS features HAT features Output Features • Online HAT or installed? • Localization • Table of contents •Contextual help • Glossary •Usage statistics •Subversion integration • Linking •Customize help system • Search •Accessibility analyzer •Content snippets • Index •Mobile Help • Breadcrumbs •Indexing content •Multiple Help systems within 1 • Multiple projects project (share content) • Community features •Multiple projects share the same template Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 13. Choosing the HAT Current resources • You – Time available – Writing skills – Technology comfort level – Prior experience • Help team – Colleagues with prior Help authoring and implementation experience? • Company IT • Development team Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 14. Choosing the HAT DIY or vendor? Budget – ???? Software developer resources – Development capacity to build in-house? Timeline – 1 month? – A few months? – 6 months? Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 15. Choosing the HAT A vendor system it is! Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 16. Choosing the HAT Vendor technical support How much technical support do you need? • Chat • Email • Phone • Other – Vendor website stocked with helpful info – Product demos – Online FAQ – Social media channels for support Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 17. Choosing the HAT List of common HAT Vendors Adobe RoboHelp: http://www.adobe.com/products/robohelp.html HelpStudio: http://www.innovasys.com/products/hs2011/overview.aspx?r=1 MadCap Flare: http://www.madcapsoftware.com/products/flare/overview.aspx#wha tsnew Author-it: http://www.author-it.com/ Bigger list from wikipedia: En.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_help_authoring_tools Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 18. Choosing the HAT To-do list • Define your user and company needs. • Consider your resources. • Research Help Authoring Tools (HATs) • Contact vendors, get sales demos • Test drive demo version if interested • Get quotes • Make a decision! • Get approval, buy HAT Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 19. 3. HAT ImplementationGood Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 20. HAT Implementation Install & setup HAT • Install HAT for primary implementation person • Watch training videos • Vendor product is straight “out of the box”. • Remove unwanted functionality – Index – Community features – Icons • Connect to statistics software if not included Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 21. HAT Implementation Customize HAT • Work with visual design department (if available) • Customize CSS to match software – Text color, size, font • Design and replace existing icons if necessary • Add footer / copyright • Change header/footer colors Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 22. HAT Implementation Building Help system • Work with app team to get test content published online in company repository • Help content can then be linked to the software application when it’s ready. • 1 layer of SVN Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 23. HAT Implementation Versioning system (SVN) Multiple people working on the HAT at the same time? • Check in/check out help topics – Won’t overwrite anyone else’s work • Save everyone’s work • Integrate with your organization’s SVN system (might need middleware software) • If other authors implementing, get them going on training Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 24. 4. Planning for contentGood Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 25. Planning for content Content strategy What type of info goes where? • Main UI – Instructional text to perform tasks – Supporting information for databases, i.e. ‘about’. – Limited marketing text • Help system – Information directly related to your experience IN the software – More in depth information about functionality – Search syntax for more advanced searchers • FAQ – Technical information Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 26. Planning for content Content estimate • Approximate word count – How many web pages that need additional help text? – Help estimate translation costs • Versions – Different versions of the software targeting to different audiences (for instance academic and professional markets)? – Can you reuse some text for those different versions? • Releases – Do you expect many software releases that require additional content over time? Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 27. Planning for content Base content & initial ToC • What content do you absolutely need for your first release? – Main functionality: Search tips, Basic search, advanced search, etc • What content can wait until later? • Table of Contents – – Through knowing base content, and having an idea of future content, design your table of contents. Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 28. Planning for content Help style guide & visual design • Tone, punctuation, spelling, etc – Example: Use American spelling – Example: Friendly or formal tone? – Example: How technical is your audience? • Guidelines for text – Example: Never use all caps • Preferred words: – Examples: PDF vs .pdf, email vs e-mail • Cueing conventions – Example: bold for search terms & button names • Localization considerations – “Never use a ten dollar word when a ten cent one will do.” • Styling for graphics, tables, H1,H2, H3, custom icons & colors Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 29. Planning for content Help request system Planning for future content • Do you expect several releases of your software? Are you using agile? • As new functionality is added, requests are put in for supporting information in the Help system. • Designers enter in requests. • All Help text should trace back to Help requests. • Help requests are written/implemented right before the end of the release. Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 30. Planning for content Localizing content • Localization vs. translation? • On-the-fly translation vs. human translation? • Localization features – Supporting independent multi-languages of the help system (publish them separately) – Compare two languages side-by-side – UTF-8 compliance – Supporting right-to-left languages (Arabic) • Localization scheduling Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 31. Planning for content Help audits • An audit for every release • All help content checked against the software – Planned functionality might not have made it – Help request was never put it • Holistic view of entire system – Since Help content is layered in piece by piece, nice to take a step back Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 32. 5. Designing Help access pointsGood Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 33. Designing Help access points • It’s there when you need it • In context • Supporting the main functionality • Extra information that can’t fit on the pageGood Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 34. Designing Help access points Help question mark Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 35. Designing Help access points Footer links Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 36. Designing Help access points Marketing text Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 37. Designing Help access points Right where you need it Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 38. Designing Help access points ‘Learn more’ link Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 39. Designing Help access points Side panel Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 40. Designing Help access points What other types of Help access points have you used or seen? Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 41. 6. Is Help working? • Statistics • User testingGood Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 42. Is Help working? Statistics • Statistics package included with your Help system? • Statistic – Topic hits • Are people using help? • Areas of software that don’t make sense? – Search terms • Content gaps? • Synonyms? – Localization: Is it worth translating? Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 43. Is Help working? User testing • Create scenarios – How do you find out the operator precedence? – How would you use “LNK”? • On demand Help – watch and see when people use Help on their own Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian
  • 44. Thank you! Now you know more than you ever wanted to know about Help systems. Congratulations! Questions?Good Help is Hard to Find Elaine Meyer @uxlibrarian