Case study: changing printed documentation to online help

Visual Software is a small software company. One of its products is the Visual PCL LaserJet PCL print file viewer, which buyers can download from the Visual Software website (www.visual.co.uk).

Visual Software developed a new version of the software, and required professional documentation.

Background

The software is simple to use. Most operations are done from one primary screen. The software has one configuration screen, which some users sometimes need. Most of the configuration is simple, but some options are difficult to set up correctly.

The existing documentation was a 47-page Word document, which users were expected to print. The content was mixed. The documentation contained the following information:

The customer wanted online help, but was not sure of the options that were available. Additionally, Visual Software had a requirement that the customer could easily change the documentation.

What TechScribe did

As part of our pre-sales effort, TechScribe wrote a comparison of online help formats.

The customer wanted compiled HTML Help. However, to update the documentation, the customer needed to buy a help authoring tool, which the customer did not want to do.

Our solution was to create compiled HTML Help with only five topics. The help is sufficient for most users. We show what the icons, menus, and buttons on the screen do, but we do not explain how to use them. Detailed technical help is available on the customer's website. (All users are expected to have Internet access, because the software is only available by downloading from the Internet.)

A good feature of the compiled HTML Help is that pages on the customer's website open in the help. For the user, there is only one help application. The customer has full control of the content of the website. If the customer changes the content of the website, the new content appears in the help.

To see what TechScribe did, download the Visual PCL/2 Help.

Results

The compiled HTML Help is only 89K. Therefore, the help increases the software download time by only a short time.

The users are not daunted by a large quantity of help, but more information is available if users need it.

The customer's conflicting requirements were met. There is good documentation, which the customer does not need to change. Technical problems, FAQs, and other information can be updated by the customer.

"This is exactly what we wanted."

Neil Geddes, Director, Visual Software.

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