technical writing

Help for Mobile Apps – ArtStudio on My Cell Phone

Posted by | mobile user assistance, online help, Online Help Writer, Software User Assistance, technical documentation in Greenwich CT, technical writing | No Comments

Now that I’m back from vacation, I’m continuing my investigation into the online help/user assistance for some of my favorite apps on my Apple iPhone 4S. In my previous post, I looked at the user assistance for my banking app. In this post, I’m taking a look at my favorite art creation/editing app – ArtStudio by Lucky Clan.

ArtStudio advertises itself as a “comprehensive, sketching, painting and photo editing tool,” and it is certainly that. You can create pictures from scratch or import them from the photos on your phone. The app includes numerous image creation and modification tools that you would normally expect in such an application, including the ability to vary brush sizes, color, create different layers, adjust different characteristics of an image, and much more. It really is a great little app.

But how does the online help stack up? Once again, I’m asking the following questions:

  • When using the app, when do I need help?
  • How do I find the help?
  • When I find it, does it actually help me?

The answer to the first question, when do I need help, depends on how much experience I already have using art applications. Somebody who has experience using programs such as Adobe Photoshop on their computer will likely be familiar with many of the tools and features in ArtStudio and will know why they might want to use them when creating and modifying images. For example, I already know what a layer is, and I know why I would need to vary the size of a brush or other similar tool, and my beginner-to-intermediate Photoshop experience lets me quickly identify many of the tools available in ArtStudio. Still, using these tools on my iPhone or even on a tablet for that matter is different because of the smaller workspace available on these devices. Yes, I will still need help, but mostly with finding tools and options in the user interface.

A beginner will not only need help finding tools and options in the user interface but will also need to learn how to use them.

So where is the help in ArtStudio?

Like many new cell phone apps, this one conforms to some modern default behavior. Most everything you might be looking for is located in a menu, and the menus are easily accessed by tapping the familiar three horizontal lines symbol located in the upper left corner of the screen. From the main menu, there is no Help item, but there IS an item called ArtStudio. Lo and behold, when you tap ArtStudio in the menu, you get another menu, and this one has several items related to user assistance. So two taps got me to a menu with links to the User’s Manual, FAQs and Tutorials. That’s not too bad, although a less inquisitive user might not think to look in ArtStudio on the main menu.

artstudio1

And now we get to the third question: when I find the help, does it actually help me? Again, the answer depends somewhat on what kind of user I am.

A beginner with little or no experience using a image creation program would be tempted to go straight to the Tutorials. So I tapped Tutorials on the menu and a tutorial index page opened in my cell phone browser.

artstudio2

The Tutorials seem a little peculiar to me in that I expected to see some basic tasks presented, but not all the tutorials are labeled as such. There are a couple of video tutorials that show you how to create a caricature; when you click the tutorial link, a YouTube video launches. If you like learning by video, this is a good choice as the video does demonstrate how to complete several basic tasks. However, the person in the video is using the tablet version of ArtStudio and is also using a tablet pen. A keen observer might be able to transfer the information presented in the video to his or her cell phone app, but that’s a bit of a stretch. Personally, I don’t like video tutorials because I like to work along with the tutorial, and you can’t really do that with a video unless you constantly start and stop. But that may just be my own preference.

The other tutorials are not videos but are fairly useful combinations of screenshots and procedure steps. Unfortunately, these ArtStudio tutorials do not cover many of the basics of using the application, and I feel that they are lacking in this regard.

artstudio3

So the Tutorials are less than ideally useful on my cell phone.

Let’s get back to our ArtStudio menu and take a look at the User’s Manual. When you click the Users’ Manual menu, a 45-page PDF file opens in my cell phone browser.

artstudio4

Now here’s the good part – the entire manual is 100% graphic-based instruction based on task and consist of images with callouts. I had to enlarge the page to be able to really see the images on my phone, but I find this type of instruction the most useful. (Note that you can also view it the User’s Manual PDF on your desktop computer or tablet on lucky clan’s website for a larger, more readable view.)

artstudio5

Now here’s the bad part – this guide was created for the tablet version of ArtStudio, NOT the cell phone version. The images depict the program’s menus along the top of the screen, but in the cell phone app, the menus are vertically arranged on the left side of the screen. But how bad is this really? The phone app works pretty much the same way as the tablet app, and the menus are identical except for their location. The dialogs and controls are the same between the two versions.

I really like the User’s Manual because it is entirely image-based, but it doesn’t really teach you how to use the program, it just familiarizes you with the tools and options that are available and how to access them. Once again, for a person like me who has used this type of program before, that’s really all I need. For a beginner, it would not be enough. Still, I wish all software programs included this kind of documentation.

To summarize, the help for ArtStudio is better for more experienced users and is really designed for the tablet version of the app. The company obviously did not feel it necessary to produce a cell phone-specific user’s manual, and given the fact that this type of program is better suited to the larger screen size of a tablet than a cell phone, this may not have been a bad choice.

Editing and Proofreading from CohenWrite in Greenwich CT

Posted by | editing, freelance technical writer, mobile user assistance, Online Help Writer, proofreading, Software User Assistance, technical documentation in Greenwich CT, technical writing | No Comments

In today’s business environment, urgency is often the primary motivator behind new product releases, especially in the software and mobile application development realms. In the rush to be the first to market with the latest and greatest, important steps are often skipped in the process. Editing and proofreading of written supporting material such as end user documentation, marketing copy and even press releases are steps that I’ve seen skipped or at best, hurried through. The result is a product that might look unfinished to many, and that’s no way to hit the market with your great new product.

CohenWrite offers more than 25 years of experience proofreading and editing, and we always deliver when you need it. Let us put that professional final touch onto your written material, including technical documentation, web content, software user assistance, mobile user assistance and more.

API Documentation in Greenwich CT

Posted by | API documentation, freelance technical writer, technical documentation in Greenwich CT, technical writing, Uncategorized, writing services in Greenwich CT | No Comments

Having worked in the software industry for oh, forever, I’ve worked with a lot of software developers. And there is a universal truth in the realm of software development: Programmers hate to write documentation. Even those developers who begin a project with the best of intentions end of stumbling somewhere along the way, and the code that is ultimately produced contains little or no useful documentation. But ironically, software developers LOVE good API documentation.

Well, of course they do. Good API documentation leads a programmer by the hand through the jungle of functions, methods, events, parameters and yes, the dreaded best practices. The best API documentation should include the following elements:

  • Completeness. Every aspect of an API should be documented.
  • Examples. This is very important.
  • Sample applications, if available.
  • Ease of use and accessibility. API Documentation is best presented in an online format with lots of related links, easily accessible to the busy, impatient programmer.
  • Coverage of multiple languages, if applicable and practical.
  • Documentation of error codes.

CohenWrite has a lot of experience working with software developers and API documentation. Let us help you help your developers.

Webinar Planning and Scripting from Technical Writer in Greenwich, CT

Posted by | freelance technical writer, Online Help Writer, Software User Assistance, technical documentation in Greenwich CT, technical writing, Web-based user assistance, webinar planning and scripting, writing services in Greenwich CT | No Comments

By now we’ve all heard of web conferencing, that ubiquitous service that allows conferencing events to be shared with remote locations over the Internet. The modern term for this service is Webinar, and they have become both popular and quite useful for customers of all kinds of companies.

Webinars are often presented as a combination of software demonstration and PowerPoint presentations, and frequently provide some form of take-away document at the end. The take-away document can be the actual PowerPoint presentation, which can be problematic if the presentation is too wordy, too vague, or doesn’t have enough meaningful images; or an additional document specifically designed for this purpose. One of the most popular webinar services is Webex, which is a proprietary service from Cisco.

Some web conferencing solutions require that additional software be installed by the presenter and participants. Some web conferencing vendors provide a complete solution while others just enhance existing technologies. Participants can be individuals or a group. The best webinar systems allow individuals to interact with the presenter by means of a chat panel, in which the attendees can ask questions that are seen live by the presenter. Many webinar vendors provide either a recorded copy of an event, or a means for a subscriber to record an event. In my experience, the majority of people who register for a webinar end up not attending but going back later and watching or downloading the recording of the event. So the ability to record webinars is very important.

Of course the most important aspect of a webinar is the actual presentation. Is it focused on a single piece of software or logical group of software functions? Is there a demonstration of the software? If there are slides to present, are they useful and capture the attention of the attendees?

Webinars can be a very cool way to impart important information to your customers about what your product does, how it works, and how to use it. Shorter webinars are usually more effective than longer webinars because quite honestly, most people are busy, multi-tasking, or simply lose focus after too much time. Of courser, a good writer can provide webinar planning and scripting, and some, this author included, can even do justice to the presentation.

Useful and Interesting Stuff Around the Web: from Technical Writer in Greenwich CT

Posted by | Content Strategy, freelance technical writer, Online Help Writer, Software User Assistance, technical documentation in Greenwich CT, technical writing, writing services in Greenwich CT | No Comments

There’s a lot of useful and interesting stuff floating around the web these days on a variety of topics, particularly those of interest to businesses who are thinking about how to present information to their customers. Unfortunately, there’s so much lousy and wasteful content out there, most people give up trying to find the good content.

Here then, are a few links to some articles and blog posts that I found useful and interesting, and I hope you do too:

A collective thanks to the authors of the aforementioned articles.

Technical documentation writing services in Greenwich CT

Posted by | freelance technical writer, Online Help Writer, Software User Assistance, technical documentation in Greenwich CT, technical writing, Uncategorized, writing services in Greenwich CT | No Comments

CohenWrite is backed by more than 25 years experience writing documentation for software and hardware products using a variety of popular authoring tools. In the “old days,” we used to write long-hand content and hand it over to a typist who prepared printed pages on a Xerox 860 system. Now we use all kinds of sophisticated single-based authoring software to prepare the widest variety of content to software users over the Internet.  The tools may have changed, but the fundamental principles underlying documentation content have not. End users still need to know how to get the most of out of your product. This is the value that experienced technical writers add to your product and your company.

Technical documentation includes but is not limited to:

  • Step-by-by procedural manuals
  • Online help
  • Immediate help embedded in the software itself
  • Conceptual information
  • Visual learning guides
  • Collaborative documentation
  • Information for programmers (API guides, for example)
  • Training guides

And the list goes on.

Twiki content planning and authoring in Greenwich CT

Posted by | freelance technical writer, technical writing, twiki planning and authoring, writing services in Greenwich CT | No Comments

We’ve all used a wiki at one or another, either at work or on the Internet. The most popular example of wiki technology is wikipedia.org, everybody’s favorite online encyclopedia. Its most basic application is collaborative authoring, and this writer has been involved in the planning and authoring of wiki content using one “brand” of wiki – Twiki. But most wiki software works the same way.

A wiki is an application accessed in a web browser. It allows people to add, delete or change content in a collaborative environment. Wiki authors enter text using a simplified format and the structure of the information is usually created based on the needs of the participants. Wikis can be used to manage content and a single author does not typically control that content. Many authors contribute to the content.

Twiki is a wonderful tool and is often overlooked. However, smart companies know the value of this tool. Using a wiki to dispense and share information can greatly enhance the collective knowledgebase of an organization by allowing active and regular collaboration among software developers, writers, marketing staff and indeed, every department and employee. Everyone in an organization can post, read and add comments to coding notes, testing protocols and results, product specifications, internal documentation, meeting notes, scheduling, metrics and a whole lot more. It’s really simple: important information disseminated to more employees makes them smarter.

Wikis are often used as the basis for websites, presenting content to the public (Wikipedia) or even functioning as customer service portals where customers can post questions and issues and service reps can respond with solutions.

To summarize, most organizations could benefit from implementing a wiki in one form or another.

Web-based user assistance – technical writing in Greenwich CT

Posted by | freelance technical writer, Online Help Writer, Software User Assistance, technical writing, Web-based user assistance, writing services in Greenwich CT | No Comments

These days, user assistance comes in many forms. We still produce traditional sources of assistance for our customers in the form of sequentially organized printable user manuals and online help systems. But web-based assistance – that is, content that is viewed in a web browser – has become more and more common, and not just for web-based applications.

Go to any website that sells any product. Many will feature “online help” that appears directly on the web page when a customer clicks a link or a menu command. This kind of web-based help is often quite effective when displayed in its own panel or other type of container directly on the page. A single click gives the user access to the correct information exactly when he or she needs it, rather than forcing the user to go dig around in some 500-page PDF manual or click around in an external help system. And we’re all familiar with the ubiquitous Frequently Asked Questions pages at our favorite online shopping hangout.

Then there are web-based software applications, which often provide different kinds of user assistance. While an external help system remains a traditional solution to user assistance for web-based apps, including in-depth procedural and conceptual information, this type of system does have some drawbacks. For example, it sits outside of the application itself and a user must take multiple steps to find the right information, removing their focus from the task at hand in the application. Testing consistently finds that most users do not use the help system at all after failing once to find relevant information.

The best way to provide user assistance for web-based application is to embed the information directly in the application user interface. Finding answers to questions in embedded user assistance takes almost no effort – the information is usually right there on the screen, or appears directly on the screen with a single, obvious click. Again, testing consistently finds that users are more likely to use embedded help than an external help system.

The lesson here? Web-used user assistance is preferable to external help systems, or at the very least, should be the first line of defense for a confused user.

Online and printable end user guides technical writing

Posted by | freelance technical writer, Online Help Writer, Software User Assistance, technical writing, writing services in Greenwich CT | No Comments

Even though the advent of social media and customer feedback and interaction has begun to change the way software help is delivered, most software companies still produce online and printable user guides.  CohenWrite is backed by 25 years of experience authoring end user guides using the most popular documentation authoring tools, including Madcap Flare, Adobe FrameMaker, RoboHelp and yes, even Microsoft Word. Current versions of these tools allow authors to output multiple deliverables from a single set of source files, making the process of producing and delivering information to suit your audience fairly painless.

Customers who buy your software applications, whatever they are, still need to know how to use them. They still need to know step-step-procedures, identify user interface elements, and understand how to get the most out of your product. End user guides, especially when delivered online and embedded in the software itself, still serves this purpose when designed properly, with the needs of the end user in mind.

CohenWrite can produce all of your end user guides using modern authoring tools, helping you to deliver the right information to your customers at the right time.

Software user assistance technical writing services in Greenwich CT

Posted by | freelance technical writer, Online Help Writer, Software User Assistance, technical writing, writing services in Greenwich CT | No Comments

Software User Assistance is one of those phrases created in the modern information age to describe both the process of developing information to support software users and the information itself. Software user assistance has many names, online help being the best known and most commonly accessed from any software program by pressing the F1 key on a keyboard.

In a former age, technical writers created printed documentation for software users. You remember those multiple, large volumes of instructions that required a big shipping box to hold them. These manuals invariably sat for years on your office bookshelf, often unopened and unread. If you did read them, you would probably jump right to the index and hope to find something useful. Then with the aid of newer, more robust authoring tools, we added online help to the mix of user assistance outputs. Online help provided software users with a dedicated window of content, context-sensitive to the software function you were currently using. The great thing about online help was that it allowed content to be driven by the needs of the user; hyperlinks connected related topics of information in a non-linear structure. The advent of modern documentation tools allowed us to produce printed and online outputs from a single source of information, and provide a more dynamic online help experience. The Internet has provided for an even richer user experience, allowing for dynamic information updates and a variety of information formats and presentations, including more and better images and video. More recently, the explosion of social media has given our users the ability to contribute to the documentation through the use of information feedback and sharing.

Technical writers are the traditional authors of software user assistance, but technical writing is only one of the skills now required to write good software documentation. These days, software user assistance skills can now include technical writing, user interface design and usability, editing, project planning, coding, indexing, testing, localization and standards.

Today, software user assistance is a very broad term and encompasses any and all content provided to users to help them get the most of the software that you have sold them. And it is a critical part of your user’s experience.