Tag: Yahoo Group

Author-it Web Help Configuration Wizard

For version 5.3, Author-it released new web help templates and having played with them a bit I have to say I like them. However I was struggling to see how to enable some of the options that you can see in the example Author-it provide, so off into the HTML and CSS files I headed to see if I could see anything useful in there.

And there is, several of the options are commented out in the HTML code and with a little bit of poking and prodding I got some of them to work. Pretty straightforward, if you know HTML and CSS that is.

But what if you don’t?

Well the good news is that the ever productive Hamish Blunck has created an Author-it Web Help Configuration Wizard which, in a few simple steps, will produce you a custom Web Help template. It really is very simple and works like a charm, it also uncovered a few options I hadn’t spotted in the code.

Thanks to Hamish for providing this to the Author-it community (he also hosts a search engine that polls the old Yahoo Group). Great stuff this, go and give it a shot.

Author-it Hints, Tips, & Useful Info

The following are not in any particular order. Some are tips gleaned from experience, some are links to the knowledge being shared by others, all have helped us get us from a standing start to a full content conversion and production delivery in under 4 months. We started with ~2450 topics of imported content, and managed to keep pace with the development team as well as cleanup and backfill the imported content. Quite a feat!

Working with Author-it

As we were converting a LOT of content from FrameMaker to Author-it, there was a LOT of cleanup required. Being able to customise the styles toolbar, adding in the most common used paragraph styles for example, was a huge bonus. We ended up creating one under the Supervisor login, and then each team member copied that to their installation.

Apparently Prompt for unsaved changes is turned off by default. We found this out the hard way, so click the big Author-it A and check in the options to turn this on.

JavaHelp Tips

JavaHelp uses the HTML templates, so if you provide customised HTML templates it will use those.

This next one might be specific to the way our development kit works.

To get context senstive help working you need to add the agreed string to the Context String field on the Help tab of the Topic Properties dialog.

We used this on some topics that will only appear in the help system, allowing us to create ‘landing pages’ which can then direct users to the most pertinent topics for the area of the product they were using when they launched the online help.

MiniTOC

These are, by default, used in Chapter templates. To get better control of the layout of these (our issues were mainly with vertical white space, or lack thereof) we decided to not have any content in a Chapter topic. That way it is only used to hold/generate the MiniTOC and the next topic holds the first block of text for the chapter.

Terminology

To make it easier to reuse topics anywhere, we switched our terminology slightly. There is no such thing as a chapter anymore, unless you have Word/PDF specific topics. We use ‘section’ instead.

Word template

The source of many a frustration, but that’s not really the fault of Author-it.

One thing I’d suggest you do first would be to figure out what macros you need and get them into the template first. Remember to configure the Publishing engine to use them as well.

We are using the following macros, all of which are available from the Author-it Yahoo Group:

  • HyperlinkedTOC – creates links from the table of contents text, rather than just the page numbers
  • RemoveCH – Removes the CH from the SuperHeading text
  • ResizePictures – makes sure images fit the column width
  • ResizeTables – make sure tables fit the column width
  • SaveAsPDF – creates a PDF of the Word document

See how to Add an Author-it AfterPublish macro to the Word template for a simple set of instructions.

Problems with numbering? Julie Goodwin, Technical Support Team Leader at Author-it, popped up in a comment last month and pointed me at this solution.

Useful links

First place to head for information is, unsurprisingly, the Author-it Knowledge Center, it’s a replication of the entire documentation set plus some very useful Tips and Tricks and Workarounds.

After that, your next step should be the Author-it Yahoo Group. It’s active and full of hugely helpful and knowledgeable people and without their help I don’t think we’d have managed to hit our project deadline.

One member of the Yahoo Group, Rhonda Bracey, has published several excellent tips on her blog. Well worth a look.

A recent addition to Author-it, one we are currently looking at, are Variants. Hamish Blunck has an excellent overview of how Variants work, and there are more goodies to be found on his website.

And last, but not least, there is an official Author-it Blog which publishes product news, tips and tricks and other random stuff on a regular basis.

Author-it Tidy Up

Firstly a quick thank you to everyone who has commented on the previous post. What a fantastic bunch you are, and as I mentioned in the comments, I’ll be using your first names and locations in an infographic for an upcoming presentation. Fame will be yours! (Note: fame not guaranteed)

In other news I’m deep in the trenches of 2000+ Author-it Topics, stepping through each one to clean up formatting, correct hyperlinks, set the correct template and so on. I’m working my way through all our old content, imported using the MIF Import. It’s not the most stimulating work but needs must.

On the way I’m fixing bits and bobs in both Author-it and the Word template that we’ll use to generate the PDFs of our documentation from. If nothing else the context switch is keeping me sane!

One annoyance is the fact that I’ve had to add a “Reset Numbering” paragraph style as without it you’ll find your numbered lists (that we use for procedures) roll on and on through your document. I’d have thought the Procedure Heading style would’ve been setup to handle this out of the box but, alas, not. So far it’s the weakest area for me, and I’d certainly love to see some more example templates, either provided by the company, or on a community submission basis.

I’ve also spent a fair bit of time dipping in and out of the Author-it Yahoo Group which is a fantastically helpful resource. Well worth joining if you are an Author-it user.

Right, best get back to it. Hoping to get that number below 2000 by the end of this week!

Recently Read

Christmas looms large, and the days are “fair drawing in” as they say in these parts. I’m taking a couple of weeks off to relax and recharge, and no doubt to eat, drink and be (very) merry. As ever this time of year is pretty hectic, so here are few things that caught my eye over the past couple of weeks.

10 Word to avoid in your writing
A short list but the main point is to avoid gobbledygook. One of my pet peeves is the use of long words when a perfectly valid, shorter, word is available. The Plain English website has some excellent advice if you want to find out more.

No-one reads the help anyway

the next time you hear someone say, “No one reads the help anyway,” say, “Yah, no one uses Google either.”
This will lead to a puzzling follow-up question — What do you mean? I use Google all the time.
Then you say, What do you use Google for? To search for answers, solutions, and information when you have questions?

Like some of the commenters, I disagree with this a little. At a simple level it works, but there are flaws. However, as an opening gambit I think it’s a good one. It will make people stop and think, and once you have them thinking about it THEN you can explain the more subtle differences.

AuthorIT Yahoo Group Search
I’m listing this here so I don’t lose it again. Yahoo Groups are great but the search engine frequently falls over. MANY many thanks to Hamish for providing this resource, this is the kind of thing that makes the Internet great.

Building a successful web community

Do not assume that a community, particularly a successful web community, is easily built from the one ingredient of a shared interest – ensure there is also a goal or a purpose in the mix.

Very true. I know that some Technical Communicators are starting to thinking beyond user documentation, and the next step may well be to nurture online communities around your product. This article has some good tips, and I can vouch for them all having struggled to setup a Scottish Blogging site myself.

Technical Communicators and UI Design
Scott Nesbitt spotted an article about User Interface Design and a particular section caught his eye. It states that the documentation must be considered as part of the design, and Scott goes on to say:

“technical communicators need to get involved not only in the design and usability of an interface, but also how users will access documentation from within the interface.”

I couldn’t agree more with this, and recently I’ve been pushing my team to think along these lines, realising that we work with, and develop, “information” rather than “documents” meaning we need to have a greater sphere of influence.

To coin a phrase, we are the interface to the interface.