We have the team ready and raring to go. Our last post defined the documentation team roles, and as a consequence, responsibilities for our team members. It is now time to identify the topics that we need to create for our Help. This is the time where you go back to your audience profile and define their information needs, perform a detailed task analysis by looking at their job functions, evaluate the reasons they use the tool, what their goals are and so on. You need to do this exercise before you start with this topic so that you know what you want to document, the type of information that you have to document, and the media you intend to use in your web help. However, that analysis is not the focus of our series and we will move on to defining the layout of our web help with certain assumptions.

Web Help Layout

The layout of the Help or user manual is important and optimized to ensure that the users find the information they are looking for. In the context of design, we can divide the design as, the overall organization of the Help as well as the design of the web interface, and the page-level design that dictates how information is arranged within the page. The high-level design addresses what navigational elements are available to the user and how the users move between topics. These design issues are usually addressed by interface designers and information architects as they go about understanding user needs and their behavior based on the audience analysis.

Some of the standard navigational tools that are frequently used include: Search, Table of Contents, and See Also links. However, WordPress gives us an opportunity to add new navigational elements such as tag clouds and category lists to direct the user to a specific subject. To use all these features we must define the site-level structure, that is, one-column or three-column, and what goes in each of these parts. To start off, let us define the layout as:

  • Three-column layout
  • Left side-bar with navigation tree
  • Right side-bar with tag cloud and See Also links
  • Bread-crumb Navigation
  • Front-page with links to different areas

To use these new navigational elements it is also important that the topics are correctly categorized and tagged keeping the user in mind. The task of the information architect then is to understand how the tasks are performed in real-world and try to gauge the users’ mental model to predict how and what they will look for at a particular time while doing their job.

Help Architecture

Web Help with WordPress - Topic Categories

To set up our WordPress installation for CamStudio web Help we will now add three main categories: How To, Reference, and Concept. You can also add other categories such as Audio, Video, Settings, and Annotation to provide context. We will also create a bank of tags that is most relevant to someone who uses CamStudio. These will typically include: Cursor, Labels, Captions, Screen Size, Record, and so on. Of course, these initial categories and tags are not set in stone and you can expand this list as the documentation progresses, based on valid suggestions from your team members.

Templates

We have defined the high-level design and features. Next, we need to create templates for each of the information types – How To, Reference, and Concept – that we defined earlier. Templates mainly serve two purposes: one, enforce structure of the document; two, maintain consistency by restricting the formatting options available to the users.

Web Help with WordPress - Content Templates

For this, we will install the Easy Content Templates plugin, which will help us create templates. Although this specific template does not enforce a structure, you can provide a guideline and pre-format the topic content. This automation will not only reduce time to create a page, but also reduce the chances of error and reduce rework.

We are now all set to begin adding content after some more required planning defining a list of topics. In the next post we will briefly look at the topics that we will cover in this series of posts, and address our other key requirement before we begin – enforcing the writing and editing workflow. Don’t forget to leave comments or suggestions and subscribe to our blog to get updates in your inbox.