Michelangelo. The Creation of Adam (1508-1512)

Quick-reference course information
(Please start with the first week for assignments.)

Calendar view
Class notes
Course objectives
Grading plan

Reserved readings

Open forum

Project login

Class e-mail: send archive
Quick survey: fill out | view

Week of:
February 12
February 19
February 26
March 5
March 19
March 26
April 2
April 9
April 16
April 23
April 30
May 7

Other Links
ACC home page
BGTCM Program home page

Course Overview

The links have been removed from this schedule; check back start of spring semester.

Online Help & Help-Authoring Tools (ETWR 2374) is a workshop-style course in which you study the evolution and function of online help; critique existing online help; learn structuring principles and navigation tools common in online help; create online helps using several leading online help-authoring tools such as RoboHelp, Flare, and Help & Manual; and write your own online help for a software product. This course is still a writing course: you'll focus on audiences, organization, content, transitions, format, and good writing in general throughout.

Note: In this course, you can choose which help-authoring application to use—Adobe RoboHelp or MadCap Flare. We have free licenses for both, which expire after the semester is over.

Guest post from Una Cogavin: A Review of MadCap Flare 2018 and MadCap Central May 2018 Release
Cutting Edge HTML5 Design with MadCap Flare
MadCap video presentations

Independent survey of preferred tools
Help Authoring Tools. Provided by Mark Achtelig.
Can I Run MadCap Flare on a Mac? Oh, Yes!. From MadCap.

Semester/year Spring 2018
Instructor David McMurrey
Class meetings Online class
Office & hours Northridge Campus 4225, Tues./Thurs. 12:00 p.m.–3:30 p.m. or by appointment.
Phone 512.223.4804
E-mail davidm@austincc.edu

Week of February 12

Getting organized. Please review the schedule, policies, objectives, and requirements for this course. Fill out an online questionnaire and write a brief personal memo that will be posted on our course website so we can all get know each other!

Activities: Watch the course overview. These videos do not use audio; they use call-outs instead. (Password: ACCstudent)
Note: You may need to click the Full Screen button to be able to see better and be ready to click the Pause button if things go too fast. If this Mp4 does not work for you, I can generate an MP3 which will. Let me know.

Read about the course: a description, its objectives, policies, and grading plan — due Feb. 18
Fill out the questionnaire — due Feb. 18
Write the personal memo— due Feb. 18
See the personal memos
Readings: Get some background on hypertext, the essential navigation tools that make hypertext usable. Watch and listen to the recordings and read the articles in help background.
Pick your help-authoring tool. In order to choose between Adobe RoboHelp and MadCap Flare:
Notes. A few things to keep in mind.
  • Be aware of a Microsoft-related problem with CHM files. (.chm is the extension of certain help files.) You'll get an error message on some of them. See Microsoft help error for details on how to fix the problem.
  • E-mail services such as Gmail are now refusing to allow attachments of executable files. This means not just .exe files but also .chm files. To get around this problem, change the .chm extension to .doc. But remind me!
  • As of fall 2015, the trend seems to be away from CHMs in favor of WebHelp and the HTML5 look. (Now you tell me.)
Exploring the interface. Learn your way around the interface of the help-authoring application.
Activities: Do the tasks at exploring the interface.

Week of February 19

Course logistics. Learn how to log in to your JustHost account, access File Manager, zip your help outputs, upload them, extract them, and view them in a browser.

Activities: Course logistics part 1. Listen to this mp4 only to the point where I finish setting up the Flare project.
Course logistics part 2. This starts with a Flare project already set up and takes you through zipping the built files, renaming the files, and sending the zip by e-mail attachment to me.

Simple help build. To get started with your online help authoring application, create a simple one-topic help, build and compile it.

Activities: Do the tasks at simple build — due Feb. 25

Linking topics. Add topics to the help you just created and link them.

Activities: Do the tasks at linking help topics — due Feb. 25
Read the related information guide — due Feb. 25

Touring the templates. We survey a few here, but try to look at as many as you can.

Activities: Watch the Flare templates tour — due Feb. 25

Adding targets to projects. Flare has a complicated system of templates, targets, and skins. If you get it, let me know!

Activities: Watch Flare targets — due Feb. 25

Week of February 26

Formatting topics. To get started with your online help authoring application, create a simple one-topic help, build and compile it.

Activities: Do the tasks at formatting help text — due Mar. 4

Generating the TOC. Generate a table of contents (TOC) for your multi-topic help.

Activities: Do the tasks at generating a TOC — due Mar. 4

Week of March 5

Creating and generating indexes. Learn how to set up and generate linked indexes in your online help.

Activities: Do the tasks at generating indexes — due Mar. 11
Read about indexing
Take the indexing quiz — due Mar. 11

Adding graphics and tables. Practice adding graphics and creating tables to your online help.

Activities: Do the tasks at adding graphics and tables — due Mar. 11
Help modeling project. Create a set of helps based on an existing, compiled set of helps.
Projects: Get started on your Help modeling project — due Mar. 11

Note: If you must, you can complete this project during spring break and send it in Mar. 18.

Week of March 19

Help modeling project. Don't forget—last chance to send this in was due yesterday.

Task analysis. To develop online help that addresses users' needs, you must do a careful task analysis& #8212; in other words, identify those tasks that users want to perform using the software application. You then use those tasks to structure and write your documentation.

Readings and quizzes: Read about task analysis
Take the task-analysis quiz — due Mar. 25

Basic page design. Study some of the standard specifications for headings, lists, notices, cross-references, tables, highlighting, simple typography and layout issues, and other. Explore what is common or standard, focusing particularly on page design concepts for written instructions and rhetorical strategies for writing effective instructions.

Readings and quizzes: Read about page design
Take the page design quiz — due Mar. 25

Brief procedure project. Get started on the brief procedure in which in one online topic you provide some instructions. Be sure to apply the guidelines on writing style, headings, lists, notices, and highlighting that you will study next week.

Projects: Brief procedure documentation project 1 — due Apr. 1

Week of March 26

Brief procedure. Keep working on that brief procedure, which is due end of this week. Don't forget to do a good task analysis and to apply what you learned about basic page design. — due Apr. 1

Week of April 2

Using stylesheets (CSS). Learn how to apply and customize CSS style rules.

Activities: Do the tasks at using CSS — due Apr. 8

Adding dynamic functions. Create drop-down text, expanding text, and popups for quick-access information in your online help.

Activities: Do the tasks at adding dynamic functions — due Apr. 8

Week of April 9

Help formatting project. Design and create a set of helps using unformatted text.

Projects: Get started on your help formatting project — due Apr. 15

Adding other media. Add animations of all sorts to your online help.

Activities: Do the tasks at adding media — due Apr. 15

Using variables and snippets. Learn how to use variables for information likely to change and snippets for information likely to be repeated.

Activities: Do the tasks at using variables and snippets — due Apr. 15

Week of April 16

Help formatting project. Don't forget—this was due yesterday.

Importing help. Learn how to import other types of files into online help.

Activities: Do the tasks at importing files — due Apr. 22

Conditional text: You can make one set of files support different versions using conditional tags.

Activities: Do the tasks at conditional text — due Apr. 22

Adding social media. Enable users to communicate with you and each other through your online help.

Activities: Do the tasks at adding social media — due Apr. 22

Week of April 23

Final-project announce. Post details about your project so that the rest of us can see what you are up to!

Activities: Describe your final project. This is for credit so give us plenty of detail. — due Apr 29
Go see projects.

Week of April 30

Online help: final project. Keep working or get started working on your help project.

Online help: final project—first draft. Complete the first draft of your help project. I will review and get it back to you so that you can do one final revision.

Projects: Send in your final help project — first draft due May 6, review returned May 8, final draft due May 13

Week of May 7

Informal course evaluation. Help me improve this course.

Informal course evaluation Course evaluation form


What we did not cover. There is only so much time in a 12-week course!

  • Templates. Learn how to create templates that reduce the work in setting up projects and that enable consistency across multiple projects. See using templates.
  • Skins: If you continue studying Flare or RoboHelp, your first topic probably should be skins. For example, I despise the "skin" that Flare HTML5 uses: the topic links seem to be thrown at the top edge randomly.
  • Master pages: I could find no reasonable way to squeeze this in. For print output, Flare has a concept of master pages similar to Adobe FrameMaker. See Using Multiple Master Pages in Your Project
  • Context-sensitive help: You have to work with a programmer to enable CSH, but see Context-Sensitive Help Guide for Flare and Context-sensitive Help for RoboHelp.
  • What's This? help: This type of help is essentially tool tips that pop up when you run your mouse over certain interface elements. See What's This? Help for its implementation in RoboHelp. Flare does not support what's-this help yet but offers this: What's this Help in Flare.
  • DITA: At least have an idea what DITA is: a popular method of structuring information, which enables its transformation into multiple outputs. youtube.com has numerous videos on DITA and Flare.

Programs and information provided by davidm@austincc.edu.