What does a Help Authoring Tool give you over Drupal?

Comparing Help Authoring Tools (HATs) with Drupal is like comparing apples with oranges.

HATs are used by Technical Authors to create content in various formats for end users to read. Drupal is open-source software that is used to create websites for users such that they can contribute to the content (for example: blogs, personal or corporate websites, e-commerce sites and intranets).

That said, if you are a HAT user and then have to work in Drupal, it is useful to be forewarned of the main differences. The top 3 things that a HAT user will miss when starting to use Drupal:

1. The most frustrating thing about using Drupal, having come from a HAT background, is having no summary list of pages (topics) available in a different frame.

As an Administrator in Drupal, you can view a list of pages, but you can only edit the properties of one page at a time. There is no multiple-selecting and no drag-and-dropping. So topic management can be very labourious.

2. Out of the box, there is no way of managing links. So, for example:

  • If you delete a page then all links pointing to it will break, and there are no messages to warn you.
  • When creating a link in a page you have to know the path and name of the destination page – there are no helpful lists of available pages.

There are modules you can install, which can help. The “Links” module is the most complete on paper but, in Drupal 6, it can cause a programming error (i.e. not an error in the way I installed it).

3. Out of the box there is no WYSIWYG editor. For the majority of HAT users this is a must. You can only write your content in full/filtered html.

I highly recommend installing the “Wysiwyg” module. This module makes it much easier to install WYSIWYG editors. Some of these are less successful than others. If you are interested in keeping your underling code clean (i.e. free from unnecessary <span> tags created by inline styling), I recommend the “TinyMCE” editor.

Please welcome guest blogger Malcolm Tullett

We welcome our latest guest blogger, Malcolm Tullett. He runs a fire, safety and environmental consultancy and training company called Risk and Safety Plus, and is the creator of PROPA.

Malcolm’s mission is to spread the word that risk and good business are not mutually exclusive – they are simply two sides of the same coin. He’ll be blogging about business processes and communicating change within an organisation.

Malcolm Tullett

PROPA is a concept that won an Institute of Engineering Technology (IET) award for innovation. It has now been developed into a online intelligent operations manual that drives efficiency and effectiveness whilst seamlessly addressing compliance. PROPA presents end-to-end process mapping that enables you to analyse risk areas before an event and has the capability to actively change a process to mitigate risk and deliver quality data for business operations. Contact us for more details.

Welcome Malcolm!

Why bother with end user documentation for Web Applications?

In Rahel Bailie’s excellent presentation at the STC Conference (“The New Face of Documentation“), she looked at the “No Documentation” approach to software user assistance. This, she summed up, as the “we don’t document it; we just fix it” view of software development.

She argued that a “No Documentation” approach doesn’t lead to no documentation. Users soon start to share their tips, tricks and information. They generate the content they need. The consequence of this is that the software developer loses control of user documentation – what is said, and which pages users view when they search in Google.

She made a good case for the need for user documentation where:

  • The application or system is complex
  • Training is needed
  • You want to guide users to additional features or services
  • The concept or process is not familiar to users
  • Assistance needs to be embedded in the User Interface

I think that’s a great analysis.

She covered a number of topics we’ve looked at in this blog: the impact and role of Twitter; Web 2.0; component based authoring of re-usable topics; user generated content; and an ecosystem approach to user assistance.

It’s clear that technical authors can produce more than just paper manuals. I’m sure in the next few years we’ll see technical communication evolve, as software developers embrace and master these new technologies, and user assistance, in some form or another, will still be needed.

So who wants a job as a technical author?

We’ve had a number of new vacancies for technical authors come in within the last few days – in the UK and mainland Europe. You can see them on our Technical Author Vacancies page.

Email issues overnight

We moved email providers overnight, and some emails sent to us may have bounced back to the sender during this period. We are currently receiving email, and the new system seem to be working correctly now. If you did get a failure notice for an email you sent any of our staff, please resend and this time we should receive it.