Consulting on technical documentation, software documentation and online documentation
Having a background of more than 25 years of expertise in designing and writing technical documentation in general and software documentation in particular, I can offer you the following consulting services:
As a service provider and contractor for technical documentation, I design concepts for clear, user-friendly user manuals, online documentation, and help embedded into the user interface of a product.
Have you developed a new product or new software? Do you need some user documentation, such as user manuals, online help (online documentation, help sites), or screencasts?
Based on a detailed user analysis, I can develop a user-friendly and cost-efficient user assistance and documentation solution for your product—from the underlying didactic concept down to the detailed structure.
As an option, I can also implement the designed solution, or I can assist you in doing so.
Do you need a documentation plan at all?
Can’t professional writers just start writing and let the documentation “evolve”?
Yes, they can. But it will be more expensive, and it will take longer. Why?
▪Many decisions need to be made during each project. You can make each decision either as part of a prior documentation plan, or you can make the decision “on the fly” only when writing the text. Both takes the same time.
So, up to this point, there’s no gain in developing a prior documentation plan—but there’s no loss in time and money either.
▪Many decisions are mutually dependent. Therefore, some of the decisions will need to be revised as part of the process.
If you’re working on a plan, you can revise a decision quickly. Revising the decision costs nothing: All you need to do is to change your mind. If you’re working on the actual document, however, revising a decision can be costly. You must change everything that you’ve produced so far. The more you’ve written, the more it costs.
Now guess what’s safer, faster, and more cost-effective …
Questions that a documentation plan should answer
A sound documentation plan doesn’t have to be very extensive, but it should at least answer the following key questions:
▪Needs of the target group
What do your clients know already? How do they work? What are their main goals and tasks?
▪Other imperative aspects
What fundamental restrictions must be taken into account, such as deadlines, budget, frequency of updates, and translation requirements? Does the documentation have to fit into a group of existing documents? In the case of software: Which operating system is used, which programming language is used, and which browsers are available on the users’ computers? In the case of software on mobile devices or on operator panels on a machine: What’s the screen size? Is there a mouse and a full-featured keyboard available or a touchscreen?
What types of information do your clients need? Basic conceptual information, reference information, or step-by-step instructions? Do you need to communicate general domain knowledge as well as specific application knowledge?
Should you provide a printed user manual (PDF), or context-sensitive online help, or both? What information should go into the user manual and what information should go into the online documentation?
What documents should you provide? Should you put all information into one document or should you supply several user manuals for specific purposes and user groups?
▪Help formats and context-sensitive help calls
Which help format should you use? Plain HTML or a special help format? Can context-sensitive help calls be implemented? Who assigns the required help IDs: programmers or help authors?
Which navigational devices will you provide within your documents and online help systems? Where will you provide links / cross-references, and where not?
How should your document(s) be structured? Which chapters / topics should you provide?
Which authoring tools should you use? Can these tools handle all the languages that you require now and in the future?
As an option, a documentation plan may also comprise sample layouts and basic prototypes.
As a service provider and contractor for technical documentation, software documentation, and software user assistance, I optimize user manuals, online help, and screencasts. I can analyze your documents both from the users’ perspective and in respect to the creation process. The result is clear, user-friendly, and cost-efficient documentation.
Have you already created some technical documentation (user manuals, online help, screencasts) for your products? Are you not quite satisfied with the current documents? Or are you unsure whether your current printed documentation or online documentation meets all the requirements? Have there perhaps even been any complaints from users or have you noticed large numbers of support calls relating to specific issues?
I can analyze your documents both from the users’ perspective and in respect to the creation process. I can then work out suggestions for improvement. In most cases, the key weaknesses can be identified quite quickly so that the review does not take much time.
As a result, you either get a written report of the analysis plus a list of suggested improvements, or I can present the results in person. In case I present the results in person, we can add a discussion to work out an implementation strategy.
Free of any sales motives, I can help you choose the right authoring tools and systems to create technical documentation, in particular software documentation (user manuals, online help). In addition to consulting, I can also assist you hands-on in creating the required templates and in setting up the production process within the chosen tools.
Do you need an authoring tool to write software documentation (user manuals, online help) yourself? Or are you no longer fully satisfied with your current help authoring tools or online documentation tools?
Decisions at this point have a strategic impact:
▪on the quality of the output
▪on the efficiency of creation, production, and translation
▪on process reliability when you have tight deadlines
If it turns out later that your decision was wrong, things will become expensive: You will have to make new investments in other software, in the repeated training of staff, in the repeated setup of templates and workflows, and in the conversion of documents that have already been created.
With many years of experience in planning and writing technical documentation, I can systematically analyze your specific requirements. Based on these requirements, I can then present a preselection of tools that meet these requirements as best as possible, and I can explain the specific advantages and disadvantages of each solution.
This gives you a well-founded basis for your decision. I’m free of any sales motives for a specific tool. Therefore, my advice will be absolutely neutral and vendor-independent. For the same reason, I won’t procure any tools for you. To buy a specific tool, you will need to contact the maker directly.
In addition to consulting, I can create the required templates and set up the workflow within the chosen software.
As an expert for technical documentation, I can provide individual consulting on the questions specific to your project. I can either advise you only once, or I can continuously support you along your entire project.
Do you want to write some technical documentation or software documentation and are looking for advice? Or do you already have some existing user manuals and help files that you want to revamp?
Organized as a workshop, I can provide you with the necessary know-how, and together we can work out solutions to your individual questions. You can benefit both from my long-standing expertise and from my unbiased view to your project as an outsider.
Depending on your requirements and questions, the workshop typically takes one or two days.
If you’d like, I can also continue my support for some time after the workshop and provide continuous feedback on how to further optimize your work.