Adobe RoboHelp: six sexy top tips

technical authoring

Here are six useful tips for getting the most out of RoboHelp. These are the types of valuable hints learnt by technical writers who attend my Adobe RoboHelp HTML training courses.

1. Explore the output types. Make sure you’re using the perfect one(s) for you.

Many RoboHelp users simply go for the output type (i.e. single source layout) they are familiar with or were once told to use. In doing so, often they’re missing out on getting the most from their project and so don’t provide an optimal user assistance experience for their users. Here’s a summary of the four most popular RoboHelp outputs:

  • WebHelp: ideal when your users need to be able to access the online help from across an intranet or the Internet and you know they aren’t using a mobile phone to view it, and if you want total control of the help’s appearance (using the WebHelp skin editor).
  • Responsive HTML 5: great if it’s crucial that your users can view the help on just about any device – phone, tablet, computer.
  • Microsoft HTML Help (CHM): perfect if you want to deliver the help onto every user’s computer (e.g. with a software application) and have a traditional, familiar interface with context-sensitive help.
  • Word document: many people forget the benefits of producing a Microsoft Word document from their RoboHelp project. Not only can you easily produce a quality user guide as well as a quality help system, but you can also generate an output of the help that’s perfect for printing and proof-reading (we all know you spot more errors when reading on paper rather than online).

RoboHelp is a brilliant single-source /multi-output application – so make sure you’re getting the most from it.

 

2. Add shortcuts keys. RoboHelp has many shortcut keys built-in, and many people often use them, but what about those features that you still have to “point and click” to access because they don’t have a shortcut key? Well, the good news is that for many of the features/commands, you can create your own shortcut key for fast access. For example, if you often add bookmarks, you can add a shortcut key for the “Insert » Bookmark” feature. To do so:

[a] Select View » Toolbars » Customize.

[b] Display the Keyboard tab.

[c] Locate and select the command in the Category drop-down and the Commands field.

[d] Put the cursor in the Press new shortcut key field, and type the keyboard shortcut.

[e] Click on Assign.

 

3. Automatically correct commonly mistyped words. There may be some words that you frequently mistype (one of mine is “display” – I often type as “dispaly”). Microsoft Word has an AutoCorrect feature that lets you automatically change a word or phrase to the word or phrase of your choice. But did you know RoboHelp too has that feature? Just do the following:

[a] Select Tools » Spelling Options.

[b] Display the AutoCorrect tab.

[c] In the Replace field type the misspelt word, and in the With field type the corrected spelling.

Bonus tip: you can use this for longer phrases that you don’t want to have to type in full every time (for example, I have “rh11” autocorrected to “Adobe RoboHelp HTML 11”.

 

4. Increase the WebHelp navigation panel width. The standard width of the navigation panel (where Contents/Index/Glossary/Search are shown) in RoboHelp’s WebHelp output is 220 pixels. If you have long topic titles, or multiple levels of sub-books, this can be frustratingly narrow. Fortunately, you can change this… but not within the RoboHelp user interface. To do so:

[a] Having quit out of RoboHelp and backed up all project files, launch Notepad (or another text editor).

[b] Open the …!SkinSubFolder!SkinName.skn file in Notepad.

[c] Locate the first “frameset cols” phrase, and change the value shown, e.g. from 220 to 288.

[d] Save the file and close Notepad.

[e] Regenerate the WebHelp in RoboHelp, view it and admire the wider navigation panel!

 

5. Carefully mark topics when using a conditional build tag. Conditional build tags enable you to exclude items, including whole topics, but it’s easy to accidentally include a topic that can be found by searching even when it’s excluded from the Table of Contents (TOC).

To ensure specified topics definitely don’t appear in the help’s output, right-click on the page entry in the TOC and select Apply Conditional Build Tag » New/Multiple, then tick both columns – TOC and Topics – for the relevant conditional build tag. This will make sure that not only do you see diagonal shading on the topic in the TOC, but importantly the topic won’t be accidentally included and findable via search in a help output.

 

6. Use the tag list. If you’re thinking “the what?!” then I suggest you give it a go. Select View » Show » Tag List and then a horizontal bar is shown in RoboHelp just above the topic itself. Wherever the cursor is located in a topic the tag list shows all the details of that cursors’ location, such as “Document » Table » Row » Cell » Paragraph » Hyperlink”. While that information is useful, the really useful thing is you can quickly and perfectly select any of the items by just clicking on it, such as the hyperlink or the table cell – brilliant when you want to make sure you’ve got the exact item you’re after before copying and pasting, etc.

 

Conclusion

There you go… six top tips for RoboHelp users. OK, maybe they’re not that sexy, but hopefully they’re useful… which of course is more important to technical authors anyway! Happy New Year!

Any comments? Or do you have any useful tips you want to share? If so, please leave a reply below.

Adobe RoboHelp: six sexy top tips

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