Case study – single source user assistance

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Our client, Staffcare, developed a flexible software solution (also called Staffcare) for managing organisation’s HR, benefits and payroll data. Armada was commissioned to create a full user documentation set for System Administrators comprised of two formats:

  • web-enabled online help
  • PDF user manual.

This project was to be completed in short timescales and to a tight budget.

What did our client want?

Their main aim was to be able to support Staffcare Administrators by providing both background/conceptual information and step-by-step explanations of how to carry out key tasks.

Another key requirements was to make online help that was accessible from within the software, and hard copy documentation for user reference while working away from the system. The online help had to be comprised of both a full help centre and context-sensitive help topics to provide information about each screen within the software.

They also wanted a design that would complement their software. We also had to take into account the fact that Staffcare can be tailored to suit each customer, so the documentation set had to be easily re-brandable.

What we suggested

We suggested a single source approach. We explained that creating a single source project would take us a little bit longer than creating just online help or just a user manual, so would cost a little more. However, at the end of the project we would be able to provide them with online help that they could incorporate into their software, and a professional standard PDF user manual that they could distribute to their customers or potential customers.

Staffcare accepted our proposal and we assigned one of our Senior Technical Writers to the project.

What process did we follow?

As with all our projects, we started by:

  • Providing an estimate of the anticipated timescales and cost.
  • Giving consideration to the approach we would adopt and the tools we would use on this project.

We estimated that it would take us 25 days to carry out the project, from start to finish.

The options available to us regarding the approach/tools included:

  • Creating a single source project in Adobe RoboHelp.
  • Creating a single source project in MadCap Flare.
  • Developing an XML / DITA project, e.g. using a tool such as XMetaL Author, DITA Edition.
  • Using a combination of Adobe FrameMaker and Webworks.

In this case, we opted for RoboHelp. This was because it was a relatively short project and so we wanted to keep set-up time to a minimum, and there was no requirement to re-use the text, or to translate/localise.

We then carried out the necessary initial research. This involved one face-to-face walkthrough, using the system ourselves and exchanging emails and phone calls with Staffcare’s experts.

We designed a look and feel for the online help and user manuals that would complement the Staffcare software and reflect the latest professional standards. This involved a stylesheet, a template, a ‘skin’ and a splash screen. These were all set up in such a way that they could be easily adapted should it be necessary to create versions of the help and user manual that are branded differently.

We set up a single source project, and got on with writing the overview and task-based topics that would form the backbone of the documentation. We made use of conditional build tags to indicate sections that were to be included in just the online help or just the hard copy user manual.

We generated the output

Web-based online help and hard copy user manual – and carried out various manual amendments as necessary to complete the process. A Director of Armada carried out quality assurance, checking the help and manual thoroughly.

We forwarded the online help and user manual to Staffcare for vetting and approval.

Throughout the project we worked closely with Staffcare, keeping them informed of our progress against our original plan and asking for advice and answers to questions we had. For example, we asked them to approve the look and feel we’d designed, and to review the list of topics we proposed to include.

The project was completed within the specified timescales and budget.

Case study – single source user assistance
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