For any business that wants to remain competitive, it is vital for it to be in touch with its customer base. This holds even more true when it comes to ‘help documentation’ such as information about a product and its features, instruction manuals, blueprints and similar guidelines. Such documentation is necessary for the safe and easy operation of a product and may also be useful for creating better insight for different services.
However, it is not easy for even the most efficient and experienced technical authors to write such documents quickly and easily. After all, they need to explain all the functions and features of the product in an ‘easy to understand manner’ for the layman. A help authoring tool (HAT) is essential in creating a system to help employees as well as customers in understanding a logic based system.
Why are HATs necessary?
Once the guidelines and instructions have been clearly written, they will then have to be configured in diverse software formats so that they are easily accessible to the customers. HATs allow an easy transfer of information by working as carriers of information.
When a knowledge base is complete with its subsequent documentation, it still requires constant updates and frequent revisions. At times, the information may have to be completely restructured and overhauled. This will help ensure that all the information being uploaded is up to date with the very latest features and functions. A help authoring tool can do all of this far better than conventional word processors.
Advantages of HATs
There are several advantages of using HATs. They provide a working platform to create helping material such as articles and definitions. They allow a business to improve its customer support and provide a method for future growth of information. Here, we discuss some of the top advantages.
- Data in Different Formats
Almost all modern HATs are capable of multiple format creation since this is probably the single greatest benefit that a help authoring tool may offer. In fact, this is their core function with many others being add-ons.
For a help document to be easily accessible to the target market, it is imperative that it is easily available online in as many formats as possible so that all customers are able to access and or download it as and when required. A HAT will ensure that all this hassle is avoided and the document easily converted to whatever software program and to whichever format desired.
- Add-on Features
This is where help authoring tools come into their own. HATs are basically software programs that have been designed to help make the creation and updating of help content easier and less tedious. This is because, while basic software such as MS Word, for instance, can create help documentation reasonably well, they do not have the added capabilities of a dedicated help tool. Such software programs have many add-on features such as media libraries and listed elements.
- Trouble Spotting
A lot of instruction manuals and help documentation may be long winded, requiring countless topics to be covered. Doing all that work in any standard word processor would be an uphill task. A HAT on the other hand, may prove to be very helpful since many of them are equipped with built in analyzers. These tools can automatically run checks on the document for broken links and flag duplication even as it lumps together all media elements in easy to read lists.
It is said that “a picture is worth a thousand words” and that is why imagery is an important part of any help documentation since visual representation may often be the only viable method of providing the required information to the end user. HATs have built-in image resolution tools that may be used to change the images in terms of both size as well as resolution.
The Top 4 HATs
Here, we discuss the top four help authoring systems which are currently in use in the online world.
The ProProfs help authoring tool is arguably the most user-friendly software around as far as HATs are concerned. In fact, it does not even require installation, while being capable of helping its users to create content within minutes using both CSS and HTML. The knowledge base may also be fully integrated with both webmaster and Google Analytics support so as to ensure seamless SEO (Search engine optimization) with all popular internet search engines. It also has a rating survey tool that can instantly provide user feedback in real time.
- Adobe Robohelp
Initially created way back in 1991 by Blue Sky software, Adobe Robohelp is one of the oldest HATS around. Its latest version boasts an all new interface, dynamic filtering and out-of-the-box mobile app support that may be shared easily on social media such as Facebook as well as Twitter. Moreover, its tagged Output view allows filtered content by utilizing different filters.
- Madcap Flare
Madcap software house’s Flare help authoring tool is essentially intended for technical authors who need to both write and edit exceptionally long winded and complex documents such as technical and instructional manuals. MC Flare's claim to fame happens to be its “write once, publish anywhere” capability. Any document created in MC Flare is automatically composed of varying sized topics which are in turn organized in its proprietary content explorer.
HelpNDoc was created in December 2004. It has the ability to create a single source document that may then be converted to many different formats such as PDF and HTML along with comparatively newer software such as Amazon’s Kindle and even EPUB. It also has a fully integrated WYSIWYG editor that gives HelpNDoc an MS Word like look.
For any knowledge base to be utilized to its optimum level, it is essential that it should be easily accessible to the end user as well as any intermediaries who would require such information. The main aim of creating an online help system is to improve customer support and ensure that users can learn about various concepts directly. This greatly reduces the workload on a company’s support structure.