Online Helps & Help-Authoring Tools
Overview, Textbooks, Policies, Grades

Overview of Course Objectives

Online Helps & Help-Authoring Tools is a workshop-style course which you may include any or all of the following topics: evolution and function of online helps; critique existing online helps; structuring principles and navigation tools common in online helps, development of your own online helps using one or more of the leading online help-authoring tools such as RoboHELP and Flare. This still is a writing course: you'll be expected to write for a specific audience and pay attention to organization, content, transitions, format, and good writing in general throughout.

Unfortunately, we do not have enough weeks in this course to cover all the features of these two help applications, not to mention the advanced ones. Also, we'd need a connection with a programmer to create context-sensitive help and what's-this-help. The one topic I wish we could squeeze in to the schedule has to do with skins.

This course features Camtasia recordings for RoboHelp and Flare. They are completely untested—help me make them better! The blue call-out bubbles probably need to be longer in duration. Keep your finger on the pause button!

Note: Online Helps & Help-Authoring Tools is a vigorous, rapid-paced course. Be ready to work fast, hard, and smart. Do your best to keep up!

Textbooks: Required & Supplemental

There are no required-purchase textbooks for this course. The helps and tutorials provided by the help-authoring applications and available on ought to be adequate. Your instructor and other students in the course are also available to help.

Also, there is a surprising number of tutorials on RoboHelp and Flare at

Course Policies

  • Schedule changes: It's very likely that there will be minor changes to the schedule as the semester goes along. It's your responsibility to stay informed.
  • Course-related activity: Expect to spend an average 4 to 6 hours a week doing readings, writing assignments, learning software, and researching hardware.
  • Pace of the course: Some of the key goals in this course are to get you thoroughly introduced to help-authoring software and to get you to produce industry-standard help files. The knowledge, skills, and portfolio items you gain from this course will be absolutely essential to you in getting employed as a professonal technical communicator. To accomplish these goals, our course must be vigorous and fast-paced. Be prepared to work hard, work fast, and work smart. Do your best!
  • Late papers: No credit will be given to late work. However, you are allowed one mishap based on Murphy's Law.
  • Use of computer hardware and software: You are not expected to own any specialized software or hardware: the TCM lab at NRG 4209 has help-authoring software and graphics software.
  • Help-authoring software: We have been able to get free licenses with extended expiration dates. Contact me for information.
  • Revisions: Check with me whether you can revise assignments.
  • Use of computer hardware and software: You need not own a computer or have special word-processing software. However, you need to have, or develop during the semester, word-processing skills that include such elements as headings; bulleted and numbered lists; headers and footers; automated cross-referencing, tables of contents, and indexes; use of bold, italics, and other fonts. The class will introduce most of these skills; see me for other needs in this area.
  • Computer knowledge: You must have a solid end-user familiarity with computers and Windows to do well in this course. You need to be comfortable with creating, editing, saving siles; creating directories (folders); moving files to different directories; and so on. Be willing to learn, ask questions, and do the necessary research to support your documentation projects.
  • Graphics: You need not have any skills as a graphics artist is this course. You can cut and paste, scan, trace, use clip art anything that will get something resembling the artwork you need for your documentation projects. One of the units in the course will introduce you to basic graphics techniques.
  • Practice & quick checks: The practice items are meant to gently encourage you learn as you go rather than at the last minute when you are face to face with a big project. You show these these practices items to me (or end them by e-mail attachment); I will give you full credit if you've done the activity satisfactorily or you can try again.
  • Plagiarism: Using other people's written work as if it were your own can result in an F for the course and expulsion from the college. You are expected to have read and understood the current issue of ACC's Student Handbook and Academic Handbook for information about procedures and about what constitutes scholastic dishonesty.
  • Extra help: If you need help understanding the concepts in this course, thinking of writing projects, getting access to computers, using the software, producing professional-looking documents, handling basic writing matters (such as parallelism, punctuation, or subject-verb agreement), contact me or post questions to the class by e-mail.
  • Disabilities: If you have any disability or impairment that may affect your work for this course, please contact me as soon as possible.

Grading Plan

The following explains the grading categories and their relative weights in the final grade. Please note that we may not be able to do all of the projects listed below.

  • Personal memo and questionnaire. At the beginning of the semester, you'll write a personal memo which will be posted for the rest of the class to see; you'll also fill out a questionnaire for me. The memo will be password protected; only I will have access to your questionnaire information.
  • Help-authoring practice. Whichever help-authoring tool you use, you'll go through a series of practice exercises focusing on essential tasks. You'll send these to me; they will receive a grade of "ok" or you can try again. These practice items prove to me you can do the tasks associated.
  • Forum participation. This course is equipped with an open forum in which you can ask questions, answer those question or discuss the course in general. This activity will be a part of your final grade.
  • Final project. Your final project in this course will be a brief help file (minimally, 3 topics) but with all the trimmings typical of a "real" help file. You can do this project as a team or solo.

Final grades will be determined this way:

Category Percent
Help practice (8) 48
Final project announce 12
Final project 30
Open Forum participation 10

Your instructor cannot dictate the design and contents of your Flare project. Each project will be different, have it own personality. However, have these grading criteria in mind:

Clarity: Your help project should provide good, clear, useful information that helps users accomplish tasks.20
Writing: Writing on your project should be clear, inviting, upbeat, free from error.25
Layout/format: Overall layout and format of your project should be logical, natural, intuitive.15
Navigability: Users of your project should be able to find the information they need easily.15
Technical explanation: Assume that your visitors have little technical background relating your project. Explain things clearly.15
Visitor feedback: If our course provides a unit on visitor feedback, enable feedback at critical points in your project.10

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