When you are working on writing a help file or any other kind of documentation like user guide, tutorial, or instructions, in the result, it is important to produce a comprehensive manual that will let the end-user to easily find an answer to their question or find a solution for the issue being experienced.
We have prepared a checklist that you can use to control the quality of your help files by different criteria from the documentation structure to the presentation of information and the common appearance.
1. Provide the user with exact instructions on how to solve a specific problem or perform a task, but not how the application works.
2. Develop simple and clear documentation structure by organizing the hierarchy of chapters, sub-chapters, sub-sub-chapters, and topics describing a specific task or issue. That will make It easier for the end user to find the answer to their question.
3. Place general topics before special topics that describe specific tasks or issues. Similarly, place more important topics before less important topics.
4. Similarly to the structure of the entire manual, provide a clear structure for each individual topic by using titles and sub-titles. Divide the information into paragraphs, so that each paragraph explains only one subject.
5. Add titles that will clearly tell what will be explained in the entire article, so the user will not have to read the topic if it does not describe the questions they are looking for.
6. Provide numbering for step-by-step instructions (for example, the instructions that describe how to achieve something, or how to solve a known issue).
7. For electronic help files, add collapsible blocks of text (e.g. a link with "read more" title), so the user can expand and read the description if they actually need the details.
8. Add images (for example, screenshots) or a video to illustrate the solution or issue described in a topic. Obviously, that a description with an image will be a better explanation especially to non-experienced users.
9. Provide a keyword Index of terms sorted in alphabetical order, so the use will be able to quickly find a description of an unfamiliar term used in the product. Also, while some tools allow you to generate the Index automatically, consider adding special keywords used in your product manually. For example, you may also want to add synonyms.
10. Avoid ambiguous language and provide clear instructions, so an average user can understand what they should click or enter to achieve the goal, perform a task, or solve an issue.
11. Make sure if your documentation uses a consistent set of terms and the same terms are used within the product it describes. Also, avoid different names for the same subject.
12. Develop a professional and functional design for your help file or printable manual. Some help authoring tools provide a set of good-looking layouts, so you can select one of them for use in your documentation. However, you may also want to create a customized layout (for example, that will fit to the website of your company or specific product).
13. Integrate the help file with your application or web-service to provide context-sensitive help, so the user will be able to get help from a specific section in the application without the need to search for the subject through the entire manual.
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