Why everything is OK

How UI conventions are born. More...

August 23, 2014

Not our job to make it easy

Software makes the impossible, possible. Isn't that enough? More...

July 20, 2014

How to make a design problem worse with documentation

If poor documentation can't fix a bad design, try a poorly worded sticker. More...

June 15, 2014

Managing prose as if it were code

Shoehorn writing into code at your peril. More...

June 11, 2014

Tech writing with heart

Is documentation boring by habit? More...

May 30, 2014

Walkthroughs are cruft to be scraped away

Reasons why a series of intro screens may hurt your app, not help it. More...

May 20, 2014

A thousand words in a jiffy

Animated GIF workflow and tools for Mac-based writers. More...

May 4, 2014

Generate good faked data

if you need more technical user data, this is a good tool to consider. More...

April 20, 2014

Optimizing for simple

Simple is better, but not always the primary goal. More...

March 23, 2014

Title goes here

The curse of placeholder text, realized. More...

March 9, 2014

An impressive online tutorial

A free-form tututorial is amazing and useful. More...

March 2, 2014

Thirty years of Macintosh

Enjoy the Guided Tour that taught people how to use the first Mac. More...

February 18, 2014

Another horse in the XML race

oManual aims to make repair manuals easier and smarter. More...

January 19, 2014

Watching the readers

eBooks offer the chance to learn what you don't want to know More...

December 31, 2013

Don't tell me you love me

If you like me, tell the world. If not, dev\null. More...

December 7, 2013

Are we not men?

"It's the 21st century," the person said. More...

December 2, 2013

Books aren't dead yet

Could some young readers actually prefer the printed page? More...

November 29, 2013

Simplified iOS 7 screen shots

An easy way to clean up iPhone screen shots in your documentation. More...

October 11, 2013

A stick figure explains cryptography

A comics-based technical document that works. More...

September 5, 2013

Linking: All things in moderation

You're not alone on the web, but you might want to pretend you are. More...

August 25, 2013

The unspoken meaning of punctuation

When consistency conveys hidden meaning. More...

August 18, 2013

Documentation that drains willpower

Your reacers are injured when they start. More...

August 11, 2013

Everyone's a tech writer

A free guide aims to help anyone write documentation. More...

August 4, 2013

Neighborhood consistency

Tending your own word garden, and those around you. More...

July 28, 2013

Reading Usable Help without Google Reader

Other ways to keep up with Usable Help. More...

July 21, 2013

Easy online code documentation

A simple tool to generate lovely and responsive online doc. More...

July 21, 2013

Fixing bad designs with documentation

A series of bad decisions can't fix the core problem. More...

July 15, 2013

Mining visual data to improve documentation

An easy way to study your customers. More...

July 13, 2013

Searching Usable Help

An easier way find items at this site. More...

July 6, 2013

Short Attention Span Microvideos

Ideas for making tutorial movies that work and won't drive you crazy More...

July 6, 2013

Replaced by machines

An updated tool lets your documentation "go viral." Yeah, right. More...

June 26, 2013

You've got 6 seconds

Can you learn to cook a dish from Vine? Yes. Be afraid. More...

June 18, 2013

Press 1 for more options that don't make sense

Can instructional techniques make phone answering trees more usable? More...

June 8, 2013

Museums for technical writers

People come to a museum to look, not read. More...

June 1, 2013

Another reason not to rely on FAQs

A visual, cautionary tale. More...

May 26, 2013

Writing to avoid trunca...

Help your customer and avoid professional embarrassment by paying attention. More...

May 19, 2013

Apple Style Guide 2013 released

A new version of Apple's in-house style guide is released. More...

May 12, 2013

Is text-speak really teh sux0r?

As ugly as it might be, it is your future. More...

May 5, 2013

The novelty of actually reading the manual

Perhaps the most overlooked productivity tip More...

April 28, 2013

Justifying a style guide

A nice summary of why a style guide adds value. More...

April 21, 2013

Usable Help on Flipboard

A new way to stay current with this website. More...

April 15, 2013

Wabi-sabi and Minimalism

The essence of simplicity, but not drained of life. More...

March 31, 2013

Just-In-Time Help

Tufte's look at built-in documentation More...

March 31, 2013

Self-identifying audiences

Letting users decide how smart they are is a tricky thing. More...

March 23, 2013

A resource for GUI history

It's great you're breaking new ground. Or, are you? More...

March 17, 2013

Evolution of Roomba's Virtual Wall instructions

Watch as the built-in help for the accessory changes over time. More...

February 24, 2013

A lightweight way to track changes

CriticMark delivers a way to track changes in Markdown documents More...

February 17, 2013

Unintended consequences of good documentation

Good instructions benefit everyone, even those who don't deserve it. More...

January 27, 2013

Real world tips, tricks, and tweaks

Fantastic Win95 mockumentation More...

January 19, 2013

Learning instructional design from a master artist

Will Eisner's little-known US Army publication is a fantastic resource for instructional designers. More...

January 14, 2013

Overlooking the tech writer forest

Apparently "tech writer" is a generic word for blogger. More...

January 6, 2013

Get to the point

A tweet calls out a common problem with instructional design More...

December 30, 2012

Wiki-based Documentation: Tastes Great, Less Filling

Using a wiki for your production documentation isn't for everyone, but that doesn't mean it isn't a viable alternative to expensive or complicated CMS deployments. More...

December 30, 2012

Is your documentaton meant to be read?

One way to measure your intent. More...

December 22, 2012

The Sketchnote Handbook for Instructional Designers

A fine example for your bookshelf, and you'll enjoy it, too. More...

December 16, 2012

Before you can RTFM, you must DTFM

You can't read what you don't have. More...

December 9, 2012

Verizon's anti-documentation commercial

Good products don't need documentation. More...

November 25, 2012

Hidden in plain sight

Selective attention distracts your readers, but so too does junked-up pages. More...

November 11, 2012

Card sorting tools for iOS

A digital approach to a tried and true tool. More...

November 4, 2012

A tool for iOS screenshots

Status Magic tames the iOS status bar for documentation purposes. More...

October 28, 2012

The Green Man

Even one-word instructions are hard to write More...

October 21, 2012

The disappearing book

Read it or lose it, my friend. More...

October 17, 2012

Interactive paper documents

A tool for making URLs in paper documents more usable. More...

October 11, 2012

Telephones and rifles, oh my

Classic examples of instructional design from the past. More...

September 30, 2012

The gestalt of editing books

To edit a book, you must make a book. More...

September 23, 2012

Tracking reader behavior

A new metrics platform for reading seems too good to be true. More...

September 10, 2012

Documentation in the age of social media

Limitations produce concise and clear writing. More...

August 27, 2012

Those who know, don't blog

Do the customers who contribute to your support forums really know what they're talking about? More...

August 19, 2012

Curated Help

Just because you can put all of your content together, should you? More...

August 13, 2012

Do warnings cause problems?

It's hard to feel good about a product filled with land mines. More...

August 6, 2012

A tech writer defense mechanism

Omit superfluous details. More...

July 29, 2012

Crowdsourced keyboard shortcut reference guides

Two solutions for Mac users. More...

July 21, 2012

Dealing with an orphaned app

A realistic approach for what do to when your fav app gets bought out. More...

July 21, 2012

As go newspapers, documentation follows

Traditional media is dying. Documentation is about as traditional as you can get. More...

July 15, 2012

Ten years of Usable Help

A brief look back at this website over the years More...

July 11, 2012

Documentation without a net

Increasingly, online documentation is the only assistance provided to customers. More...

July 8, 2012

Just Google it

Everybody does it, particularly college students, but they're surprisingly bad it. More...

July 1, 2012

Poor, poor Clippy

Even if you hate Clippy, you can't help but feel sorry for the little guy. More...

June 24, 2012

How assistants put us out of business

When a product configures itself, why bother with horrible documentation? More...

June 8, 2012

Computer validates RTFM strategy. Sort of.

An artificial intelligence demonstrates better game play after reading a manual, unfortunately, any manual. More...

June 2, 2012

Qualities that users value

A study of App Store reviews reveals what users like best and least. More...

May 29, 2012

A whimsical explanation of sending email

http://www.google.com/green/storyofsend/desktop/#/it-starts-with-send More...

May 18, 2012

A lovely web front-end

How do you make a massive Q&A site fun and pretty? StackTrace has an answer. More...

May 6, 2012

Improved Help authoring with Voodoo Pad

Substantial changes in v5.0 make this versatile tool even better More...

April 28, 2012

Customers use social media, not documentation

"Ask a stranger" still better than looking it up. More...

April 21, 2012

Dealing with documentation overload

One man's approach to the downside of printed documentation. More...

April 15, 2012

Snapguide puts user-contributed Help in your pocket.

A new iOS app lets users to do your job for you. More...

April 5, 2012

Gamifying Help

Rewarding those who RTFM. More...

April 1, 2012

Help as on outboard brain

Documentation doesn't need to teach, it only needs to answer. More...

March 24, 2012

PDF: Dead format walking

Adobe's PDF is destined to go the way of Flash. It's not optimized for the future or mobile devices. More...

March 18, 2012

New ways to read Usable Help

Introducing several new ways to keep up with the site. More...

March 10, 2012

When ebooks become books

It took a few years to drop the "e" from email, will it take the long for ebooks? More...

March 10, 2012

Will customers pay more for printed books?

The answer might surprise you, and might be better left unasked. More...

March 1, 2012

Microsoft Manual of Style 4th Ed now available

An essential resource for any tech writer, editor, or blogger. Annoyingly, not free of charge. More...

February 25, 2012

Holding tech journalism to a higher standard

Reporters are sometimes technical writers too, what challenges do they face? More...

February 11, 2012

If computers had warning lights

Imagine a computer that was less neurotic about its every condition. More...

February 5, 2012

Does gender matter when it comes to Help?

Leah Guren's study answers this, and much more. More...

February 2, 2012

Read the Help, increase your score

How can we reward customers for reading the documentation? More...

January 29, 2012

Learning from old examples

See how your colleagues from the past solved two interesting instructional challenges: Disneyland Monorail and the Theory of Relativity. More...

January 22, 2012

Android basics for writers

The new Android Style provides text and wording guidelines.  More...

January 15, 2012

Writers UA approaches

Register now to save some cash for the Memphis conference. More...

January 12, 2012

Can documentation be "social?"

Can your in-house experts contribute directly to your documentation? More...

December 15, 2011

Touch, Tap, Hold.

How to refer to gestures in words and pictures More...

December 13, 2011

To link or not to link

Hyperlinks are easy, but they're not without costs. More...

December 8, 2011

Measuring your FAQ

If you have to have a FAQ, you might as well measure its use. More...

December 2, 2011

Tricky interactive tutorials

Keeping learners on the trail is a challenge for any tutorial. More...

December 1, 2011

The upside of Twitter and documentation

At least you can't ramble too much. More...

November 15, 2011

Rethinking text and illustration

Can a breakthrough work of fiction teach something to tech writers? More...

November 6, 2011

Documentation as demonstration

Beyond, well beyond, a "book," an online simulator goes where a manual can't. More...

November 1, 2011

Spoken setup instructions

A new headset that speaks users through how to use it. More...

October 8, 2011

Keeping a key to an old lock

Someday you might need to open a CHM file on a Mac. You'll be glad to have this utility when that time comes. More...

October 1, 2011

Dozuki wants to host your manuals

A new hosted service for letting anyone, and everyone, creates technical documentation. More...

September 24, 2011

Humor in warnings

This is not a time for jokes, or is it? More...

September 18, 2011

QuickHelp: A blast from the past

Old help systems apparently never die. More...

September 18, 2011

Help for Toronto Transit

Minimal instructional design aids subway riders. More...

September 6, 2011

Tweeting a book, bit by bit

Two strategies for promoting a book, 140 characters at a time. More...

August 27, 2011

User contributions via Twitter

Readers add to a product's documentation by tweeting about the product. More...

August 20, 2011

Help is a red-headed stepchild

Let's innovate where users will notice, OK? More...

August 13, 2011

A new tool for user-created documentation

Clarify makes it easy to users to help each other. More...

August 6, 2011

A look at Developing User Assistance for Mobile Apps

A new book for technical writers brings order and process to this new world. More...

August 2, 2011

Appropriate complexity

Do writers make things more complicated on purpose? More...

July 29, 2011

Animated instruction from 80 years ago

Learning from the past about how to present technical information today. More...

July 18, 2011

Edits as an instructional tool

Retaining older information as an aid to learning revised products. More...

July 8, 2011

Changes disrupt knowledge

Big changes in an established procedure can derail everything. More...

July 2, 2011

The painful reality of users

A reminder of how some struggle with their computers. More...

June 26, 2011

Crowdsourcing answers

We're drowning in answers, what we need is good ones. More...

June 17, 2011

Historical instruction about dialing a phone

Introducing new technology to a 1950s audience. More...

June 15, 2011

Retiring the food pyramid

A long term icon of instructional design is a rare thing. More...

June 4, 2011

Crowdsourced annotations for user guides

A new way to see what others are finding notable in your books. More...

May 29, 2011

Inspiration where you find it

A roadside sign provides a new approach to documentation. More...

May 22, 2011

Another reason not to read the documentation

Social media makes it easier than ever to avoid reading the manual. More...

May 14, 2011

Playboy Club Bunny Manual

You'll read it for professional interest, I'm sure. More...

May 11, 2011

Reports of Clippy's demise are greatly exaggerated

A training game for MS Office features a certain paperclip character, ironically, perhaps. More...

May 1, 2011

Eliminating documentation is green?

No paper means less shipping and waste, but not providing it all also saves something. More...

April 30, 2011

A social network for technical writers

A new website for sharing information with your colleagues. More...

April 24, 2011

Writing with AsciiDoc

A case study in writing and workflow. More...

April 18, 2011

Meet the new boss

We are drowning in a sea of handy but incorrect information. More...

April 9, 2011

Shifting trends in reading behavior

Finding and reading are two different tasks, each with their own time. More...

April 3, 2011

ScreenFloat - A tool for Mac OS X writers

An inexpensive tool utility for software documentation writers. More...

March 31, 2011

La Quinta's Shrinking Directory

A look at how La Quinta dramatically resized and optimized their hotel directory. More...

March 27, 2011

An archive of example manuals

An accidental treasure trove for instructional designers. More...

March 24, 2011

Open Help Conference

A meeting for writers who contribute to open source projects. More...

March 13, 2011

Talking heads for help

A lightweight website tool for creating animated narratives. More...

March 7, 2011

Using a card reader? I think not.

Gas pump documentation gets the task all wrong. More...

February 27, 2011

Authoring with myManuals

A new help authoring tool for Mac users More...

February 20, 2011

If you can read this, you can read English

Why does this silly convention exist? More...

February 13, 2011

A localization story

The intricacies of software localization laid bare. More...

February 6, 2011

Step One: RTFM

What's the best way to care for your pricey new camera? You might begin by reading the manual. More...

January 29, 2011

The book that never ends

Time to drop outmoded notions of finishing your book by it's publication date. More...

January 23, 2011

A tutorial set to "music"

A joke tutorial that actually teaches something. Uh-oh. More...

January 16, 2011

The harvest of complexity

Sometimes you can't "fix" the product by documenting it. More...

January 9, 2011

Help Gallery Update and Additions

A gallery of iPad Help debuts; iPhone and desktop galleries updated. More...

January 2, 2011

Collaborative writing without the headaches

A free online tool from 37 Signals makes it easy to track changes and revisions. More...

December 21, 2010

Writing fewer words

This book will inspire you to convey more by saying less. More...

December 12, 2010

Explaining everything using flowcharts

Can you explain the Internet to a child from the 19th century? More...

December 5, 2010

Easily create online iOS documentation

Voodoo Pad exports to webapp-format with offline caching. More...

November 26, 2010

20 Things about onscreen documentation

An interactive, modern onscreen book that's worth studying. More...

November 26, 2010

Instructional stunts

A silly book of nonsense has much to teach about instructional design. More...

November 7, 2010

On credibility

Are your instructions any better than what customers can get for free? More...

November 6, 2010

Kensington's documentation fantasy

What technical writers dream about. More...

October 28, 2010

Improving consumer electronics documentation

They are quite possibly the least used manuals ever published. More...

October 19, 2010

This is noted on Usable Help

Wherein an item is succinctly related to instructional design and then linked to. More...

October 7, 2010

Documentation and time-shifting

Are we writing only for users who have a concept of the future? More...

September 19, 2010

A documentation timeline

Let's write a book about our project! Are we finished yet? More...

September 9, 2010

The technology of cooking

A new cookbook with an unabashed geeky approach. More...

September 6, 2010

Visual Touch-ography

A picture is worth five words. More...

August 18, 2010

The forgotten, yet passionate, middle

Intermediate users need not apply. More...

August 12, 2010

Linked to distraction

Excessive inline links reduce usefulness. More...

August 6, 2010

Basil Wolverton's instructional design

Silly, but instructional, comics from the late '40s. More...

July 15, 2010

When the going gets tough

If you want to make more money as a tech writer, maybe you just need a fancier title. More...

June 19, 2010

Interactive Word command reference

An online interactive tool for changing from Word version to another. More...

June 16, 2010

Written by committee

How many people does it take to write a short open source manual? More than you'd think. More...

June 15, 2010

Authoring Apple Help with Texinfo

Using free tools to create HTML, PDF, and Apple Help. More...

May 27, 2010

Firefox attempts humor

Returning to the subject of humor in documentation. More...

May 19, 2010

Teach them to fish

Perhaps documentation should teach users how to find what they're looking for, elsewhere. More...

May 19, 2010

Complexity as a form of job security

Do horrible computer systems, and manuals, preserve the need for technical writers? More...

May 3, 2010

Apple Publications Style Guide updated

The latest documentation style guide from Apple includes iPhone terminology. More...

April 16, 2010

Remembering Microsoft Bob

It has been 15 years since Bob spoiled active user assistance. More...

March 29, 2010

Lessons from eye-tracking studies

How people read a page is important, how will they view your Help? More...

March 26, 2010

Help Gallery Update

Over 1000 example implementations of onscreen help are now available. More...

March 21, 2010

Words cannot be divorced from design

Getting Real recognizes that good writing is good design. More...

March 13, 2010

Frame your iPhone screenshots

Make your iPhone screenshots look like product beauty shots. More...

March 4, 2010

Developing a useful style guide

Tips on creating or finding a departmental writing style guide. More...

February 25, 2010

Quick! Help!

Is there a spot for help within the realm of "augmented reality?" More...

February 21, 2010

RubyFrontier, a tool for HTML Help

A tool for generating web sites and onscreen help. More...

January 17, 2010

Gallery of iPhone Help

A new gallery of onscreen help focuses on iPhone applications. More...

January 2, 2010

Sometimes marketing is right

An illustrated example of the difference between information and documentation. More...

December 23, 2009

Instruction manuals for criminals

A burglar is busted with a self-written "how to" book. More...

December 19, 2009

Do cookbooks teach you how to cook?

Or do they tell you what, but never how or why. More...

December 14, 2009

Better iPhone tutorial movies

A developer reveals techniques and tools for creating movies of iPhone applications. More...

November 30, 2009

User testing can be a waste of time

The reality of usability studies is different from the intent. More...

November 25, 2009

Help as a polishing step

Writing documentation reveals hidden flaws in your product. More...

November 11, 2009

Cinematic video-based tutorials

A mobile storyboarding tool could help with your tutorials. More...

November 8, 2009

Designing for myopic readers

All that great contextual help you wrote? It's never been read. More...

October 30, 2009

Another attempt at digital magazines

An interesting onscreen magazine that seems to work. More...

October 21, 2009

More on Apple Help with Voodoo Pad

Use advanced techniques to create permanent links. More...

September 27, 2009

Comic instructions

Enjoy yourself while you learn to make chai syrup. What a concept! More...

September 19, 2009

Annotating Onscreen Help

An example of how readers can augment a publication. More...

September 10, 2009

The death of techno literacy

Customers don't know, and don't care to know, and neither do writers. More...

September 2, 2009

Help on Help on Help on...

If you can't figure out how to use Help, can you figure out the help on Help? More...

August 26, 2009

When more is more

A 1930s film about mechanical engineering is a real treat. More...

August 15, 2009

Nature's God, Pogued

The Missing Manual series finally publishes a missing manual. More...

August 7, 2009

PandaWare updates Simple Help Editor

The basic cross-platform authoring tool gets a big update. More...

July 24, 2009

The web has changed writing forever

The web provides a means to publish long and short form information, like never before. More...

July 5, 2009

The weight of history

SMS and Help both suffer from decisions made for other media. More...

June 28, 2009

Apple Help and iPhone at WWDC

The chief of Writers UA attends an Apple developers conference and brings back news and observations. More...

June 19, 2009

What value do you add?

Can professional publishers offer anything that amateurs do not? More...

June 18, 2009

Instructional video delivers life

Man watches YouTube to learn how to deliver baby. More...

May 31, 2009

Authoring Apple Help with Voodoo Pad

Using Voodoo Pad to create Apple Help is outlined. More...

May 20, 2009

Breaking old new ground

The 1987 instructional video Meet Adobe Illustrator introduced users to a whole new way of working. More...

May 19, 2009

Remembering steps

Brain research suggests that learned tasks are remembered differently after being recalled. More...

May 7, 2009

Are games the last basion of documentation?

Productivity apps don't need printed manuals, apparently, but games still do. More...

May 3, 2009

Contributory contradictions

The sad state of civility on the Internet could spoil your online documentation. More...

April 17, 2009

The price of free documentation

Will the rush to free documentation leave us out of work? More...

April 12, 2009

PopSci's interactive magazine

The Genius Guide series eschews traditional how-to publishing. More...

March 28, 2009

MacSnapper, a documentation tool

A new tool for simple documentation in PDF, HTML, and WordPress format. More...

March 28, 2009

Poorly written manuals cause rage

Are readers flying into fits of rage over your documentation? More...

March 12, 2009

Classic instruction manuals

Old manuals demonstrate how far we've come, or perhaps not. More...

March 7, 2009

Searching proactively

A Google exec hints at finding answers before you know you need them. More...

February 28, 2009

Encouraging mobile learning

Kids spend more time learning from "screens" than any other method. More...

February 22, 2009

Tagging documentation

Tagging is very popular, but does it actually work? More...

February 14, 2009

Windows screen capture tools, reviewed

WritersUA helps Windows users find the best tool for their job. More...

February 6, 2009

Horrible manuals for consumer electronics

Complex electronic gadgets are poorly documented, according to the New York Times. More...

January 30, 2009

Approaching tedium

Are repetition and long sequences bad for learning? Perhaps not. More...

January 27, 2009

More iPhone optimized documentation

Apple's Xserve Field Guide for iPhone is noted. More...

January 17, 2009

Implementing Apple Help screencast

Watch a tutorial movie to learn the basics, and beyond, of Apple Help. More...

January 10, 2009

Has Google changed technical writing?

As we enter 2009, what will you do to move our field forward, and make our product more useful and relevant to our customers? More...

December 19, 2008

Using Doxygen with Xcode projects

Add your own doc set to the Mac OS X and iPhone development tools. More...

December 7, 2008

Self-documenting Products

Documenting your product using your product is a tricky proposition. More...

November 23, 2008

Apple Publications Style Guide 2008

Apple has released an update to its style guide that includes iPhone terminology. More...

November 13, 2008

Correcting virtual errors in the physical world

If the software has a mistake, can you fix it in the real world? More...

November 10, 2008

Design notes for an iPhone tutorial

An inside peek at one developer's solution for providing Help on iPhone. More...

October 29, 2008

Documenting button-by-button

An alternative to task-based documentation gets more powerful. More...

October 12, 2008

Authoring Apple Help with OmniOutliner

A free toolset for creating Apple Help from Omni Group. More...

October 3, 2008

Inventing names for documentation

Need a user name for your doc? Borrow from the techniques of fiction writing. More...

September 28, 2008

Explaining through animation

Hitatchi turns to animation to explain its latest storage technology. More...

September 14, 2008

Comic art and technical information

Google turns to comic art master Scott McCloud to help explain its latest project. More...

September 1, 2008

Documentation for getting a grip

Let's start with square one: Here's how to hold your gizmo. More...

August 30, 2008

Documenting gaming systems

Can the sub-speciality of game documentation offer lessons for the software world? More...

August 17, 2008

Documentation optimized for iPhone

View Apple's iPhone documentation without an iPhone. More...

August 13, 2008

Tool for observing usability testing

A new inexpensive Mac tool for usability testing looks promising. More...

August 1, 2008

Usable Help Bookshelf: Quick & Dirty Tips for Better Writing

A fun and handy grammar guide to keep at your desk. More...

July 28, 2008

Help that illuminates

An advanced user describes what he looks for in help and documentation. More...

July 23, 2008

Gallery of Onscreen Help anniversary update

Usable Help is six years old, and the Gallery of Onscreen Help has been updated with over 160 new exhibits. More...

July 20, 2008

Creating user assistance Wizards for Mac OS X

A fast-track implementation of a wizard, or setup assistant, can make your users happy. More...

July 19, 2008

Mistaking broken products for confusing instructions

Product returns are a big problem for the industry. Find out how you can help. More...

July 13, 2008

Too simple to believe

Even the simplest of procedures can confuse users if they expect things to be harder than the really are. A Macworld article provides an example. More...

June 29, 2008

Instructional search engine

The new FindHow search engine puts trusted instructional materials within easy reach. More...

June 23, 2008

An example of simple Wiki-based instructions

When it comes to wiki-based documentation, "just do it" comes to mind. More...

May 30, 2008

Error messages that help

A systematic approach to error messages can greatly improve results. More...

May 11, 2008

See Dick sudo

A child's guide to home server technology brings a smile, from a surprising source. More...

April 25, 2008

Contextual cues for the user

A case study in using contextual help to alert users to product features. More...

April 18, 2008

Keyword access to websites

Instead of giving your readers URLs, teach them to search. More...

April 10, 2008

Why customers write their own documentation

An O'Reilly survey provides insight into the motivation of would-be technical communicators. More...

April 3, 2008

Updated job aid creation tool

ScreenSteps 2 says that traditional documentation is broken, and provides the fix. More...

March 21, 2008

Acknowledging the medium

Instead of bemoaning the design fidelity of onscreen presentations, use the capability to better present your documentation. More...

March 12, 2008

One-on-One envy

Personalized, individual training at the Apple Stores might make tech writers long for more outside contact. More...

March 8, 2008

Apple mockumentation

If only more products were documented like the "iHam." More...

March 2, 2008

This PDF brought to you by...

A program from Adobe that lets you insert ads in PDFs, and get paid for every click. More...

February 19, 2008

Helpful setup help

Two case studies in starting your customer out right. More...

February 4, 2008

Web 2.0 and humor

Usually, critical errors are nothing to laugh about. More...

January 25, 2008

Sponsored Help

Don't laugh, you heard it here first. More...

January 17, 2008

The multiple roles of documentation

Does your manual also act as marketing material? More...

January 9, 2008

In praise of PDFs

Five qualities that make PDFs the format of choice for electronic publishing. More...

January 5, 2008

From Web Archive to Help

A simple way to author HTML-based Help on the Mac. More...

December 31, 2007

Scannable Help

Do your readers know what they're looking at? More...

December 19, 2007

Comic Life for instructional design

A fun application makes it easy to add a little fun to task instructions. More...

December 8, 2007

The cognitive load of documentation

Is your documentation a burden to read? More...

December 4, 2007

Long or tedious: pick one

Breaking up long tasks is a challenge, and there might not be a simple answer. More...

November 28, 2007

Interesting new Windows tools from Madcap

Two tools enter beta, and might change the way you work. More...

November 10, 2007

Learn about Apple Help at WritersUA

Apple Help info at the former WinWriters conference. More...

November 5, 2007

Latest info about Apple Help

A new manual from Apple provides details on using Apple Help. More...

November 3, 2007

It's a light switch

An overly-documented light switch at Sun Labs. More...

October 19, 2007

Avoiding doomed projects

Learn when you should run away from a job offer. More...

October 14, 2007

The care and feeding of engineers

Tips for effectively working with subject matter experts. More...

October 11, 2007

Calling Apple Help from Java

Sample code from Apple simplifies making Java apps more Mac-like. More...

October 6, 2007

Clippy's smile

A Yale researcher might have found the real reason you hated Clippy. More...

September 28, 2007

Better Help for the less-confident

Language, it turns out, might discourage people from attempting to solve a problem. More...

September 24, 2007

Try DITA online

A free online DITA editor for using, or exploring, the authoring toolkit. More...

September 23, 2007

3-1-huh?

The TSA wonders why people don't understand its confusing instructions. More...

September 16, 2007

An authoring tool for Apple Help

An automated way to build your Mac OS X help systems More...

September 7, 2007

From 1984

The original Macintosh user's guide, examined. More...

September 3, 2007

Help beta test a cross-platform HAT

PandaWare's help editor can use your help. More...

August 30, 2007

Understanding engineers

When "trivial" doesn't mean easy or fast. More...

August 16, 2007

When you need fake user data

Valid but random personal information is a handy thing for your documentation. More...

August 7, 2007

Does helpification ruin your website?

Technical writing's lasting contribution to literature. More...

August 1, 2007

Factually unhelpful

Throwing facts at your readers won't help them make the right choices. More...

July 22, 2007

Writing Apple Help using LaTeX

A tool for creating Apple Help from a LaTeX document. More...

July 13, 2007

Lorem ipsum saywhat?

Do you provide default or sample data that might sow confusion for your readers? More...

July 7, 2007

MS Help wiki for everyone

The MS Help wiki offers resources for all help authors, regardless of platform or proclivities. More...

July 2, 2007

Recognizing an error when you see it

Helpful and in-context error messages are tricky, but here's one that is pretty close to perfect. More...

June 25, 2007

A look at DITA and help

Windows HTML Help proves challenging when using DITA. More...

June 18, 2007

Overlooked Technical Writers

A fun peek into a world where tech writers get to play games. More...

May 28, 2007

A book is still a book

Instead of killing the book, redefine it. More...

May 17, 2007

The instructional iPod

Perhaps your next documentation suite should include an iPod-based deliverable. More...

May 11, 2007

Watching the monkeys

A clever animal behaviorist watches how humans watch apes in a zoo, and learns something about documentation. More...

April 27, 2007

Changing writer's mindsets

To transform your documentation, you must first change those who create it. More...

April 20, 2007

Catbert on techwriter salary levels

Feeling underappreciated? Don't bother reading this. More...

April 13, 2007

One foot in the grave

Many printed magazines are going digital-only. More...

April 12, 2007

Resisting complexity

Saying no to complexity is among the hardest tasks that writers face. More...

April 8, 2007

More mockumentation from VW

Fake manuals are more fun than real manuals, right? More...

March 23, 2007

So long, WinHelp

Just as with Clippy, the old WinHelp format is no longer supported in Windows Vista. But this time, users are likely to care. More...

March 18, 2007

So long, Clippy

What is Microsoft's iconic user assistant's legacy? More...

March 17, 2007

Tips about tips

Tips for writing contextual information apply to Help, too. More...

March 11, 2007

The going rate

The WritersUA salary survey reveals inside details about professional technical writing. More...

March 7, 2007

More site updates

At last, an easy-to-use feedback mechanism returns to Usable Help. More...

March 4, 2007

FMs that customers will R

Would better documentation really help sell a product? More...

March 3, 2007

Adobe is committed to Framemaker

A new official blog from a Framemaker team member says that Adobe is absolutely committed to Framemaker customers. Honest. More...

February 26, 2007

Creating the world's largest manual

The WikiHow project aims to document everything, tech writers take note. More...

February 20, 2007

A Windows tool for Apple Help

A simple Apple Help editor that runs on both Mac OS X and Windows. More...

February 18, 2007

A new look and other updates

Today brings a whole new look to Usable Help, and a big update to the Gallery of Onscreen Help. More...

February 11, 2007

Simpler UI mock-ups

Creating a user interface sketch that communicates, instead of distracts, isn’t so easy. Perhaps until now. More...

February 7, 2007

Easy job aid creation tool

If you need to quickly create a step-by-step instruction sheet for a simple task, this tool will let you do so quickly. More...

February 1, 2007

Motivation to create a tutorial

Mac-using instructional designers might want to try their hand at a tutorial contest, nice prizes are in play. More...

January 30, 2007

Screencasts worth watching

The challenges and rewards of screencasting. More...

January 25, 2007

Enchanted documentation

An odd marketing piece offers interesting examples. More...

January 19, 2007

Creating Help from a wiki

A developer discloses the tips and tools necessary for extracting content from a wiki. More...

January 5, 2007

Learn XO Sugar by exploring

Will the XO Computer fully embrace minimalism? More...

January 1, 2007

Hiring and being hired

Finding a good tech writing job, or finding a good tech writer, is harder than you'd think. More...

December 23, 2006

Safety warnings inspire spoof

Nintendo's unique safety illustrations inspire fun. More...

December 13, 2006

An approach to "universal" documentation

UDO provides a toolset for "multi-channel" publishing, but its not what you think. More...

December 8, 2006

Breaking the Laws of Simplicity

Does your documentation make the product seem hard to use? Sony seems to have fallen into this trap at least once. More...

November 25, 2006

Stop linking. Embed instead.

Show me an extensively hyperlinked help system and I'll show you a frustrated reader. Can newer technology avoid the problem? More...

November 25, 2006

The softer side of technical writing

Looking beyond bits and bytes, to bites, we can learn a lot about instructional design. More...

November 23, 2006

How to write longer Help

Special tips on making Help pagesthat are complex and long. More...

November 5, 2006

Overlooked legalese

You might slave over the readability of your manual, but is your legal boilerplate section a mess? More...

October 22, 2006

Two MadCap tools for Windows Help

A new replacement Help Viewer and format, plus a screen recorder. MadCap has been busy! More...

October 19, 2006

Test-driving dynamic documentation

One way to get a feel for non-static onscreen documentation is to give PHP Doc a spin. More...

October 19, 2006

Watch and learn

The latest version of a utility from Boinx Software brings visual clarity to any demonstration or instruction. More...

September 30, 2006

Magnetic help authoring toolkit

Like magnetic poetry, what words would you need in your fridge kit? More...

September 19, 2006

Tips for successful technical writers

A website offers advice for those starting their careers. More...

September 19, 2006

A mental model of onscreen help

An illustrated view of how Help works. More...

September 9, 2006

Navigation hinderances in help

Just because links are easy it doesn't mean you should overdo it. More...

September 8, 2006

Why aren't manuals prettier?

If the manual were as pretty as the marketing brochure, would anyone really notice? More...

September 8, 2006

Close, but no cigar

A unique design for a PDF that's very readable but with a major usability flaw. More...

August 28, 2006

Welcome to friggin' help

A new W3C working group hopes to create a markup language for conveying emotional states. More...

August 1, 2006

What if you wrote a book and nobody noticed?

Stats about book buying and reading habits in the US should inform technical writers. More...

August 1, 2006

PDF usage and trends

Tech-smart O'Reilly Media is experimenting with PDF sales of books, and has released some info about adoption and reaction. More...

July 23, 2006

In pursuit of linguistics

Different perspectives lend an eye to improving onscreen text and documentation. More...

July 17, 2006

Making the easy look hard

An illustration confuses more than it clarifies. More...

July 10, 2006

A funny manual that works

A rare gem indeed - a useful and funny software manual. More...

July 8, 2006

A look back: SR-71 Blackbird

What does the manual look like for the world's fastest plane? About how you'd expect. More...

July 8, 2006

Nom de Plume redux

Another new and handy way to generate fabricated user information. More...

June 22, 2006

Old Disney manuals

Ahoy! What can we learn from the operator's guide for a Disney ride? More...

June 1, 2006

A rose by any other name

You say "tech writer," I say "instructional designer." Let's just get back to work. More...

May 29, 2006

Gender differences in documentation use

Do men look at manuals about as often as they ask for directiions? More...

May 1, 2006

Moving readers forward

Giving readers too many choices, and distracting them with their past, subverts their goal of finding information. More...

April 20, 2006

Regarding sexism and technical writing

How does sexism and job growth impact the field of technical writing? More...

April 15, 2006

HelpML revisited

Two viewers for HelpML allow you to try out the nascent standard. More...

April 2, 2006

Cooking without Jargon

High tech isn't the only subject area that challenges tech writers. More...

March 23, 2006

Updated Apple style guide

A new edition is available for free, last updated in 2003. More...

March 12, 2006

A Look Back: Pong

Does the first Atari manual resemble today's documentation? More...

March 12, 2006

Flare debuts

The long-awaited replacement for RoboHelp is now available. More...

March 4, 2006

Help creating Apple Help

Third-party documentation and templates greatly simplify creating Help for Mac OS X. More...

February 25, 2006

Are you a victim of onscreen Help?

A columnist claims that Adobe victimizes its customers by providing onscreen documentation. More...

February 7, 2006

Quick! Help sucks or rocks?

Web surfers decide if a page is worthwhile in 50 milliseconds, do they do the same for your Help? More...

February 5, 2006

An example of user-supplemented Help

How would it work if your customers could annotate the documentation for each other? From the looks of it, quite well! More...

January 29, 2006

Real-life barriers to self-help systems

An article about self-service grocery store kiosks raises issues for Help and support, too. More...

January 16, 2006

Help Gallery update

The gallery now includes over 300 sample onscreen help implementations. More...

January 1, 2006

Good apps start with good documentation

A quick look at the top Mac applications reveals the traits they share, including excellent documentation. More...

December 29, 2005

The hidden cost of complex documentation

Some companies are finding that an overly-complex documentation suite actually hurts their product, and profits. More...

December 29, 2005

Internet-based document review

TidBITS describes their experience using QuickTopic for reviewing drafts of a manual. More...

November 19, 2005

Manuals as an audio book

An Apple manual has been released as an audio book, does it work well? There are a lot of challenges in audio-only documentation. More...

November 7, 2005

Quick research for tutorial authors

If you have to create a tutorial, this one-stop-shop will help you quickly find how others have approached the task. More...

November 3, 2005

Better than nothing

Is a datad approach to documentation better than no doc at all? Barely. More...

November 3, 2005

Card Sorting on Mac OS X

Card sorting is a handy, if labor-intensive, tool. A new application for Mac OS X makes it easier. More...

September 28, 2005

Too obscure, too fast

It's hard to write short and meaningful messages for public transit riders, see if you can do better than the CTA. More...

September 5, 2005

A good system can't fix bad Help

A study of a poorly written help system might lead you to the wrong conclusions. More...

August 14, 2005

More than software

It's unfortunate that high-tech documentation often overshadows other types of technical writing. A collection of old submarine manuals provides a reminder of a less byte-centric world. More...

July 27, 2005

Screen capture tools reviewed

Next to a good text editor, a screen capture utility is tech writer's best friend. More...

July 4, 2005

We have a Word problem

Is not having a manual worse than having a bad one? More...

June 26, 2005

Watch the #$&! manual

Get ready for an instructional "screencast" coming to a computer near you. More...

June 16, 2005

A peek inside Office Online Assistance

Starting with just a shoestring budget, the Microsoft Office team used a simple Internet approach to draw valuable info from customers. More...

June 1, 2005

Are tech writers agents of the devil?

Of the downsides of being a technical writers, karmic damage might be worst of all. More...

May 25, 2005

Dial M for Mouse

If you thought multimedia-based technical instruction began in the '80s, check out this film from the '20s. More...

May 21, 2005

Admin: Back on the air

After a brief hiatus, Usable Help updates return. Thanks for your patience. More...

May 16, 2005

Ins and Outs of Indices

Are indices an essential or unnecessary component of onscreen help? The answer might be both. More...

May 16, 2005

Stumbling towards standards

Help systems are evolving from one-off designs, to loosely standards-based, to, well, perhaps back to proprietary designs. Evolution moves slowly, at best. More...

February 22, 2005

Help plug-in for FileMaker Pro

Cross-platform developer environments often forgo the use of the help system. SimpleHelp, a plug-in for FileMaker Pro 7, brings some relief for Mac and Windows users. More...

February 16, 2005

Counterfeit manuals complete the package

When purchasing fake software, be sure to get your fake manual too. Could this be the last refuge of printed documentation? More...

January 23, 2005

Misery loves company

Having a bad day? The site This Is Broken is sure to cheer you up, or at least put your own mistakes in a new perspective. More...

January 23, 2005

A tangent on tangents

In the not-so-distance past, manuals included tangential information because they could. Nowadays, the support web site gets to have all the fun. More...

January 9, 2005

Sharpen your saw at WritersUA

The WritersUA Conference offers practical and forward-looking tips and information. I'll be presenting this year, I hope to see you there. Viva Las Vegas! More...

January 2, 2005

The siren call of a FAQ

Every product needs a FAQ, apparently, so you might as well learn how to write one. More...

January 2, 2005

Easing the pain of translation

HTML-based Help is a boon for technical writers, but it's tricky to translate. A free tool from Stormdance might make it easier to manage. More...

January 2, 2005

The crabby office lady offers help

A look at how Microsoft combines humanity, humor, and helpful advise on their Office Assistant web site. More...

December 24, 2004

Improving public documentation

Take a freely-available documentation set and add a customized application that's better designed for onscreen reading to create a more usable manual. More...

December 12, 2004

A checklist for modern Help

Does your onscreen Help system account for the best practices of modern technical writing? WritersUA gives you a checklist to quickly determine if it does. More...

November 24, 2004

A peek in the JavaHelp kitchen

A Sun weblog provides information about new features and related information. More...

November 13, 2004

Improve your Help's topic titles and summaries

This just in; writing good headlines increases the usability of your help. Learn how to assist users in finding the topics that answer their questions. More...

November 6, 2004

O'Reilly bridges print and onscreen gap

The new SafariU service allows college professors to assemble custom textbooks from published and contributed materials. Will an end-user version be far behind? More...

November 6, 2004

Computers help you learn to swear

A Florida Today columnist's new laptop teaches him how to curse like a sailor, but not much else. More...

October 30, 2004

A succinct guide to being succinct

Reducing the number of words you use makes your writing easier to read and friendlier, according to a useful guide to improving your documentation. More...

October 11, 2004

A requiem for documentation

An article "The Death of Documentation," written six years ago, still offers tangible advice for companies and technical writers. More...

September 20, 2004

Easier screenshots on Mac OS X

A simple freeware utility saves oodles of time, and prevents potential embarassment, when taking full screen pictures on Mac OS X. More...

September 20, 2004

A documentation user's guide

The New York Times write about an essential add-on for the Philips Pronto; a guide to using its manual. More...

September 5, 2004

Childhood instruction manual

A new book for parents aims to ensure that their kids have the basic skills of childhood well under control. Its instructional approach demonstrates that manuals don't have to be boring and insignificant. More...

September 5, 2004

Listen to how far we've come

An old Mac Plus audio tour captures the dawn of the first commercial GUI. More...

August 31, 2004

Printing PDF manuals

Printing a large manual at home isn't very practical, so services arise to fill the gap. More...

July 29, 2004

A Documentation Catch-22

It's tempting to provide onscreen Help in an application's native format, but it's a rare application that is good for its intended purpose, and good at delivering onscreen help. More...

July 20, 2004

Help would be nice, if I had time

If every device and product in your house needs technical support, who has time to read the manuals? And if you do, will the documentation tell you what you need to know? More...

July 5, 2004

Nip/Tuck CD cuts to the chase

The troubleshooting instructions on a Nip/Tuck CD-ROM are pragmatic, realistic, and unhelpful. More...

July 4, 2004

Turning DVD into Fishes

They say that illustrations and diagrams can really enhance instructional materials, but Toshiba does their best to prove otherwise. More...

June 25, 2004

Help users are tunnel readers

There's a fine line to walk between answering the question that users are asking and giving them tangental information that they'll probably enjoy. More...

June 16, 2004

Everyday instructions

Artist Matthew Vescovo demonstrates that even everyday activities can be beautifully documented. Why can't all instruction be this fun? More...

June 12, 2004

Documentation, five years out

Seth Godin paints a picture of the future that give every tech writer pause to think. About the impact on their careers, and how their craft will thrive in such a world. More...

June 8, 2004

You do what?

When you can't explain to others what it is you do for a living, and it boils down to what you do for a living is explain things, you're in big trouble. More...

May 29, 2004

Just play it

MacPlay responds with wit and logic to a customer who misses printed games manuals. More...

May 16, 2004

Better learning through better searching

Teaching customers how to search for information could be the greatest gift you can give them. More...

May 16, 2004

Keyboard reference on demand

KeyCue provides a new approach to keyboard shortcut reference cards. More...

May 6, 2004

Guidebooks for the smart but uninformed

Kevin Kelley observes that guidebooks are better when they are written for smart people, by smart people. More...

May 6, 2004

Everyone's a publisher

The upcoming group of customers, dubbed "Generation C", are not just information consumers -- they're adhoc publishers. Can technical writers keep up? More...

April 26, 2004

The not so hidden cost of paper

Two rumors of printed documentation being taxed, and jetisioned to save a sinking ship, reflect the value of manuals to our corporate culture. More...

April 22, 2004

Sony wants you to shun the printed page

Yet another e-book reader appears on the market, this time from Sony in Japan. Will this be the one that makes significant inroads against paper? More...

April 22, 2004

Comic Art and Instruction

Single-page comics that teach kids how to build things demonstrate that cartoon art and instructional design can be well-joined. More...

April 16, 2004

Simulating error conditions

Writers often need to simulate problems with their computers in order to document how to solve problems. An industry organization provides an easy way to simulate a virus infection. More...

April 16, 2004

Watch out for that Help, it's a trap

As help systems get smarter, and more intertwined with the system, doors left open can be abused. A CERT security alert identifies a vulnerability in Windows HTML Help. More...

April 9, 2004

An Apple Help Case Study

Matt Neuburg provides a case study in which the Help is built for Affrus, using Apple Help and Tinderbox. More...

April 3, 2004

Novices hurt more than themselves

The consequences of careless computing impact everyone. Can technical writers benefit society by helping newbies cope? More...

March 27, 2004

Amazon's archive of manuals

Shoppers at Amazon.com can download product manuals in PDF. This is also handy for writers seeking a little competitive or inspirational research. More...

March 19, 2004

See Figure Boring and Obvious, Above

The paucity of useful supporting graphics in most technical documentation speaks to the written-word orientation of most technical writers, but by learning how to caption illustration effectively, documentation becomes more useful. More...

March 14, 2004

Accidental experts

Are customers becoming more sophisticated, and less tolerant of support and documentation that talks down to them? More...

March 7, 2004

Designing for Instant Gratification

The "Googleization" of information retrievals leads to users who simply turn elsewhere if you're not making it easy for them to use your documentation. More...

March 1, 2004

Desperately Seeking Hlep

In today's world, search-strategy literacy is a key element in locating the information you need to do your job. But if you can't spell what you're looking for, good luck. More...

February 20, 2004

Context adds life

Documentation, like training, is more successful when it helps users make connections between what they already know. More...

February 20, 2004

ManualsNoMore

A new software distribution method. SoftwareToGo, drives another nail into the coffin of printed manuals and documentation. More...

February 15, 2004

Technologists need not apply

Many tech writers actually believe it's to the their advantage to not understand, or really be all that interested in, the subject of their labor. It's the dirty little secret of the industry. More...

February 8, 2004

Uniformly lacking in clarity

Page after page, help systems look alike. A study by Elaine Toms suggests that consistent, mindless information formatting may prevent users from making sense of the content. More...

February 8, 2004

Producing usable newsletters

Newsletters combine technical, support, and marketing writing. The STC Usability SIG offers some tips on doing it correctly. More...

February 1, 2004

I see usable help in your future

A sign of the times -- horoscopes that promise the ability to comprehend unintelligible manuals. More...

January 24, 2004

Bringing Extreme (XP) practices to writing

Are technical writers prepared for development and release cycles that occur on a daily basis? Not without some serious rethinking of their processes. More...

January 24, 2004

Cracking open a CHM

If you need to extract information from, or even just view, a Microsoft Help CHM file some open source tools will make your day. More...

January 18, 2004

Effective Help system navigation

Most help systems are stuck in a traditional organization of their contents. The requirements and observations in an ACM article could provide the key needed to break out of the mire. More...

January 11, 2004

References for reference books

Tech writers don't need a large bookshelf, but there are a few key publications that can make life easier. A discussion on TECHWR-L highlights some of the best. More...

January 4, 2004

Apple's first manual

Happy 20th birthday, Macintosh. An online copy of the Apple 1 system manual demonstrates how far we've come. More...

January 3, 2004

Confusion -- The gift that keeps on giving

Sure, holiday gifts are all well and good, until you have to confront the instruction manuals that accompany most products. More...

December 29, 2003

Help in your pocket

PocketHelp is a new tool for authoring onscreen Help for Windows CE-based devices. More...

December 29, 2003

Humor as a quality that readers love

A little humor in a technical document goes a long way, but the fact that it exists at all indicates something about the product, and the company behind it. More...

December 24, 2003

Help Usability Comic

OK/Cancel peeks inside the Help usability labs at three companies. More...

December 24, 2003

Overcoming single-source problems

Writing a document once, then publishing it in different formats, often results in an overly compromised publication that is mediocre in all incarnations. More...

December 19, 2003

NASA Style Guide available online

NASA's publication style guide is available in PDF format, allowing the word-obsessed to complete their collection of reference books. More...

December 19, 2003

Still Greek to Most

It's easy to poke fun at obvious mistakes, but let's start blaming the authors who make us feel stupid. More...

December 19, 2003

Smart Buckets and onscreen documentation

An exploration in archival technology for digital libraries could make product documentation more portable and easy to use. More...

December 10, 2003

The vanishing technical writer

As the role of tech writers vanishes into information and web design, will their core strength, providing solid content, be enough to save them? More...

December 6, 2003

Imitating material books in electronic formats

Building onscreen books by mimicking the physical traits of books is doomed to failure because of differences on the conceptual and metaphorical levels. More...

November 28, 2003

The hidden cost of obviousness

When the Help over-communicates, users dismiss it, and miss what good information it does contain. More...

November 23, 2003

More on embedded Help

A DevShed article provides an overview for ensuring that the text present in the UI is truly helpful. More...

November 23, 2003

Getting started with structured writing

It may seem like you need a complex hierarchy, and you might find that you've been writing for the product instead of the user, but in the end you'll discover new ways of looking at your Help. More...

November 16, 2003

Measuring Help

Polling users about what they want to see in Help could result in more focused documentation. More...

November 9, 2003

Smile, and select the PDF you want to use

The AppleScript tool Smile provides PDFs formatted for onscreen and printed use, so neither onscreen nor print user need to suffer. More...

October 25, 2003

A flaw in the DNA of Help

If more than half of the US adult population has problems with understanding lengthy text and following sequential tasks, then onscreen Help is doomed by its birthright. More...

October 21, 2003

Additions to the Help Gallery

Over 25 new example Help screens have been added to the Gallery of Onscreen Help. Each of the links leads to a new entry for your viewing pleasure. More...

October 14, 2003

PC & Pixel on product documentation

The comic strip PC & Pixel provides a Rorschach Test for documentation trends, or maybe it's just a simple gag. More...

October 14, 2003

Adobe's CS manuals

Adobe moves to PDF-only manuals with the forthcoming Creative Studio. More...

October 14, 2003

The value of writing less

It's difficult to write frugally, but it results in more usable documentation. More...

October 11, 2003

Viewing print-centric documents onscreen

An experimental utility for Mac OS X, called Tofu, provides a way to optimize documents for onscreen use. More...

October 5, 2003

Creating dynamic Help with JSP

These overviews of deploying JavaServer Pages and storing help in a database will provide you with basic tools for creating a Help system that changes and evolves. More...

October 5, 2003

Smarter Help

Once your Help system is live on the Internet, in what ways could it adapt to your customer's behavior? More...

September 28, 2003

Who needs Help when you have the Web?

The Wall Street Journal spreads the meme that nobody uses Help. The truth isn't always so simple. More...

September 23, 2003

Adaptive tutorials

Video games draw users in by ramping up the challenge over time. Would tutorials be more successful if they followed this model? More...

September 10, 2003

Customer reactions to PDF manuals

Left to talk amongst themselves, what do your customers say about PDF-format documentation? More...

September 1, 2003

Click, drag, smile

It's rare to find a single joke in a technical manual, let alone a whole book with a humorous slant. More...

September 1, 2003

Additional developments in fourth-party publications

Adam Engst, an author and computer publisher, discusses electronic publishing experiments, and a new fourth-party book about Mac OS X arrives on the scene. More...

August 23, 2003

Replacing a missing manual

Most manufacturers offer PDF-format manuals online, but the WSJ reports on LiveManuals.com, a site which not only offers direct links to about 500 product guides, but goes beyond by adding "visual" guides to common tasks. More...

August 16, 2003

Context-sensitive Help primer

A helpful and concise overview of Windows context-sensitive Help also reveals the overhead and integration necessary to implement this valuable instructional technique. More...

August 10, 2003

Fourth-party documentation

"Fourth-party documentation" is independently produced and authored, without affiliation with large publishers, and usually comes to market thanks to small-scale, Internet-based production, distribution, and sales technology. More...

August 10, 2003

The perils of assumption

All documentation has to make some assumptions, but to make the right ones you need to know your audience well, tailor your documentation to serve them, and position your work so its intent, audience, and purpose are clear. More...

August 3, 2003

Visit the Hall of Technical Documentation Weirdness

Even among the surreal one can find an example thoughtful, contextual Help. More...

August 1, 2003

Learning from mockumentation

A body spray for men, Axe, presents a documentation parody that real manuals would do well to emulate. More...

July 25, 2003

Delivery platforms

For the best user experience, deliver your Help in the format that's provided by the OS. But if there's some reason you just can't do the right thing, or if you need help getting there, there are several tools at your disposal. More...

July 20, 2003

Writers who won't RTFM

A liberal application of "practice what you preach" might make life easier for technical communicators. More...

July 13, 2003

Quick reference cards

Quick reference cards can be useful, but they're rarely provided by the manufacturer. This creates a third-party opportunity for documentation authors with good design skills. More...

July 10, 2003

Bite, Chew, Repeat.

Wordless instructions are the holy grail of documentation. They require no localization, no writer, and often less paper. But documenting something as simple as how to eat a sandwich or burrito isn't as simple as it seems. More...

July 4, 2003

The power of narrative

Narrative is the way human beings actually manage to understand and interact with the world. The traditional soulless corporate voice and valueless treatment of a product's features contribute to the poor perception of technical documentation. More...

June 30, 2003

Omit needless instructions

The holy grail of "best practices" for Help authoring is hard to find, which is too bad because some print and web conventions don't make sense for onscreen Help. More...

June 25, 2003

Get a life, not a manual

An advert from Canon shocking asserts that customers would rather use a product instead of reading about it. More...

June 20, 2003

Information format trends

A librarian's organization finds that electronic publishing is growing faster than print, but the Web has brought easy access to small-time publishing. Despite the trend, there's an opportunity here for technical writers. More...

June 16, 2003

Style Guide revisions

In the ever-changing world of technology, writing style guides need to be updated frequently. Sun Microsystems and Apple Computer make their latest guidelines available to the public. More...

June 11, 2003

Can't see the forest for the trees

Learning to use a computer by using the documentation is like learning to drive by reading about the transmission, brakes, and internal combustion engine. More...

June 6, 2003

And in 1996, nothing happened

The STC's timeline of technical communications is interesting for its historical tidbits and nearsightedness. More...

June 6, 2003

Help Gallery update

An update to the Gallery of Onscreen Help brings about 190 snapshots of Help books from your peers and competitors. More...

May 29, 2003

Info info everywhere, but not a thing to read

An abundance of computer storage allows you to have hundreds of movies, pictures, and photos at your fingertips. Or, thousands of books. But where is the killer application that would make those books useful? More...

May 26, 2003

Tutorials for shareware products

The popular shareware Graphic Converter garners a third-party training course. Is there an untapped market for supplemental documentation supporting shareware? More...

May 23, 2003

What do they really think?

One way to find out what customers think of your product's documentation is to ask them. Another is to see what they're saying behind your back. More...

May 17, 2003

Test drive OmniHelp

A design report for this cross-platform, open-source Help system is informative and also provides a working example of a typical implementation. More...

May 13, 2003

Comparing Help

An operating system shoot-out discusses some problems with the Help for Windows XP and Mac OS X. More...

May 13, 2003

Write Me

Most "read me" files can be safely ignored since their content is often unfocused and redundant. An effective read me file can be created by focusing on a few key areas. More...

May 8, 2003

Warning! Read the manual!

The VST Zip drive comes with an interesting new warning symbol -- "please read the manual." I think we need an international agreement on how to represent this plea. More...

May 4, 2003

A look at Java Help 2.0

WinWriter's peek at JavaHelp 2 is very informative. Too bad the subject isn't more compelling. More...

May 1, 2003

Write minimally

A cogent and compelling argument for the practice of minimalism in documentation. It won't take but a few minutes to read it, and it could change your career. More...

May 1, 2003

Generational Help

As more generations become familiar with computers will their dependance on documentation decrease? The basics of everyday modern life aren't learned in a manual, so why is computer knowledge passed that way? More...

May 1, 2003

Death to digital ink

A Cyberpublishing Manifesto by Hal Berghel nails the problem with electronic publishing -- it's a reincarnation of Gutenberg's press. More...

April 29, 2003

Writing for onscreen reading

Snippets from a Jakob Nielsen interview provide further motivation for avoiding the pitfall of writing books for onscreen use. More...

April 20, 2003

When is dumbed down too dumb?

First in series of real-world "too dumbed down" documentation. We begin with hand-washing instructions posted at Starbucks. More...

April 12, 2003

The processed Help book

An article on pushing the digital boundaries of eBooks provides ample juice for forward-thinking Help authors. More...

April 12, 2003

Embedded Help, it's not just for software

A closer look at a probable reason why Sharper Image added embedded Help to their Ionic Breeze air filter product. More...

April 8, 2003

Your mom's guide to iPhoto

Unlike most third-party documentation, a new guide to iPhoto focuses on just a few topics. An interesting example of user-to-user documentation. More...

April 3, 2003

Dilbert on marketing and Help

Walking the tightrope between marketing, help, and legal neutrality is a daily journey in some companies. More...

April 3, 2003

More Helpblog ruminating

Additional thoughts and cross-references on a blog-like approach to Help. Rather than immutable documentation, we'd completely change the dynamic by allowing readers to interact with the author and each other. More...

March 29, 2003

Automobile Manualsaurus

Next time you're at a new car showroom, ask to see a car's documentation set. Enjoy the look of surprise and puzzlement on the face of the salesperson, then cast your eyes on what might be the last a big, thick printed book for a consumer product. More...

March 28, 2003

A hidden cost in PDF documentation

The siren lure of "let's make a PDF from our book" is strong, but it is not without consequence. Simulating a printed page in an onscreen world results in big files, which can cost money. Just ask the authors of Real World GoLive 6. More...

March 25, 2003

Testing onscreen Help

Help is both code and words. Each aspect requires their own brand of testing and quality assurance. More...

March 23, 2003

The worst manuals of 2003

Think that documentation couldn't possibly get any worse? Think again. More...

March 23, 2003

Documentation challenges from 2001

Nearly two years ago PC World's Stephen Banes identified serious problems with documentation. They're still here. More...

March 21, 2003

What Help does a hotel guest need?

The promise of ubiquitous computing is getting closer, with small special-purpose systems popping up everywhere. One example is LodgeNet, an in-room computer system for hotel guests. More...

March 19, 2003

Environmentally-contextual Help

If Help were more aware of the user's situation, including their location, would documentation change? More...

March 16, 2003

The future of Microsoft Help

If you depend on Microsoft help technology, you'll want to see WinWriter's report on the Help 2.0 cancellation and speculation about what the future holds. More...

March 12, 2003

The inevitable heat death of the print universe

It may be that eBooks gain acceptance because of their unique legal status, not their usefulness. What a shame. More...

March 12, 2003

Cooking up Help

Lots of people hate documentation, but few would declare a distaste for recipes, which are really just another form of instruction. What can we learn from this? More...

March 6, 2003

Obfuscated automobile offspring-constraint procedures

Sometimes it's really important to read the manual, like when the safety of your child is at risk. So why, then, are so many car seats incorrectly installed? More...

March 4, 2003

Exploring embedded Help

If Help is made inseparable from the user experience it might finally stop being mere "documentation." More...

March 2, 2003

Domain de Plume

When you need to use an Internet address in your documentation, use one of the officially reserved domains. You'll sleep better, and so will your company's attorneys. More...

February 27, 2003

Nom de Plume

When you need to use a person's name in your documentation, you can make one up and risk creating legal problems or offending someone, or you can use a random name generator. More...

February 21, 2003

Mini Cooper has some fun with manuals

Mini uses a tongue-in-cheek user manual to promote its Cooper automobile. More...

February 19, 2003

Free software, free documentation

Tired of paying for software, then having to pay for adequate documentation? That's what caused one group to move from Exchange to open source alternatives. More...

February 19, 2003

Writing for a technical audience

If it has been a while since you've written a technical reference manual, Dev Shed offers a primer on how to approach this genre of documentation More...

February 16, 2003

Make 'em smile

Traditional documentation is humorless and lacks humanity, but not for lack of trying. More...

February 14, 2003

Avoiding the endless march

Step by step, what's so hard about writing documentation? It's easy to do a bad job, but it takes work to ensure you're not just marching the user down a trail without purpose. More...

February 14, 2003

The evolution of video games

Is today's onscreen Help and documentation, like video games of the early '80s, stuck in the rut of trying to emulate their paper predecessors? More...

February 10, 2003

More examples of supplemental Help

The help system built into computers provide a publishing platform, and an opportunity for third parties to enhance and extend their sphere of influence. More...

February 6, 2003

Help is self-service

McGovern's observations on poorly-implemented websites apply to onscreen documentation too. A bad help system can be worse than none at all. More...

February 3, 2003

Thanks, South by Southwest Interactive!

Usable Help is a finalist in the South By Soutwest (sxsw) Interactive Website competition. Thanks so much! More...

February 2, 2003

How do I install this thing?

A customer who downloads a file and doesn't know what to do with it is quickly frustrated. One way to help the situation is to provide installation instructions that are "in your face." More...

January 31, 2003

Using blogs for Help

Allowing users to annotate Help for others would be a brave move and there are lots of questions to solve. But perhaps we could allow anonymous ratings that provide better cues to the value of the content. More...

January 31, 2003

Writing for the digital generation

When was the last time you saw a television or telephone manual that was written for a "beginning" user? More...

January 30, 2003

Social cues in Help navigation

In the real world, we use social cues to navigate. Can these be used in Help? More...

January 27, 2003

Help Apple write Mac Help

Want to help Apple make Mac Help better? A new job opening for an Instructional Designer is the opportunity you've been waiting for. More...

January 27, 2003

Boys and their toys

Technical writers love to fiddle with fonts, debate tools, and find new, complicated methods to produce their work. Industry conferences are full of tools-based sessions and its a shame that hardly anyone talks about content. More...

January 26, 2003

You've read their books, now see the movie

Scraping the bottom of the barrel for topics, a new film about the life of a tech writer who discovers his hidden self. More...

January 24, 2003

Help slaying monsters

A "The 5th Wave" comic about Unicenter Help. But I don't really get the joke, sorry. More...

January 19, 2003

Help for HTML authors

If you author HTML, you'll like these references from the Web Design Group. Another example of using help authoring tools to deliver stand-alone reference books. More...

January 19, 2003

An Apple Help primer

An older article at MacTech magazine provides a useful overview of some of the unique features of Apple Help. More...

January 16, 2003

Providing documentation is not enough

Innovative products require innovations in training and documentations, says Technology Review writer Michael Schrage. More...

January 13, 2003

DHTML in Office XP Help

Office XP Help uses DHTML for inline expansion of topics and glossary entries. A nice touch. More...

January 12, 2003

Printed manuals to return in 2003?

Is omitting a printed manual penny-wise but pound foolish? Maybe, but we're talking a lot of pounds. More...

January 5, 2003

The worst manuals of 2002

The people at Technical Standards must have a great time judging the entries in this competition. The winners and runners-up are all fascinating in a train-wreck sort of way. More...

December 31, 2002

Links galore at Helpware

As the year draws to a close, check out the handy list of MS Help links provided by Helpware.net More...

December 25, 2002

Onscreen help gallery

Every profession learns by studying the work of others. Now Help authors can do the same. Announcing the debut of the Onscreen Help Gallery. More...

December 18, 2002

Using WinHelp for PHP documentation

An ongoing project that converts the standard PHP doc set to the proprietary Windows Help format. Join the fun, if you're so inclined. More...

December 15, 2002

Guidelines for Palm OS Help

Learn how to author Help for Palm OS devices. More...

December 15, 2002

Pickles comic states the obvious

The comic Pickles on insulting documentation. Ha! Ha! (ouch) More...

December 11, 2002

TIP database of instructional theory

Tap into the TIP database to discover the learning and instructional theory behind Help and documentation. More...

December 6, 2002

Using Internet-based content in Windows Help

With just a little effort, Windows Help authors can begin to explore how to mix local and network-based help content. More...

December 3, 2002

Where's the Office manual?

Microsoft Office X comes with a PDF Getting Started manual, but customers can't find it. Or, so says a tech bulletin at Microsoft. More...

December 2, 2002

Applying the five W's to Help

Asking "who, what, why, when, and where" can completely change the way you write onscreen Help. More...

November 27, 2002

Using the Show Help toolbar button

A new game called iConquer includes a nice help system, including what might be the first implementation of the "Show Help" toolbar item in Mac OS X. More...

November 23, 2002

A user's guide for school lunches

Product manuals that move beyond the obvious and tell you how to integrate the product into your life are very rare, and it is a treat to discover one. More...

November 23, 2002

The Cranky User on unusable onscreen documents

A case study in why providing documents in standard formats results in a better user experience. More...

November 20, 2002

MS Help Center exploit

Integrated Help can be wonderful, but with great power comes great responsibility. More...

November 15, 2002

Microsoft Style Guide available online

If you have a Windows computer, the Oct 2002 Microsoft Style Guide is probably handy. Too bad they won't share it with the rest of the industry. More...

November 10, 2002

Make a pillow out of your manual

An advert from Pentax suggests a new way to make documentation useful. More...

November 10, 2002

Improving the readability of PDF documents

Few PDF files are designed for onscreen use, learn how to do better with an article series at CreativePro. More...

November 8, 2002

The rise of the FAQ

A pre-authored frequently asked question list is a silly thing. If you are able to anticipate questions, build them into the documentation and product. More...

November 3, 2002

An eBook usability triangle

Successful onscreen publishing, whether in Help or eBook format, requires attention to appearance, behavior, and identity. More...

November 3, 2002

Help for REALbasic applications

A tool called AppBundler lets REALbasic authors provide Apple Help with their applications. Wonderful! More...

October 25, 2002

The lowest-common denominator problem

The more people involved with a documentation project, the harder it is to serve the intended audience. More...

October 21, 2002

A look at the Sidekick's help system

Providing Help for a powerful portable device is a challenge, how does Danger tackle it for the T-Mobile Sidekick? More...

October 17, 2002

If the content isn't good, don't bother

Automation and tools are all the rage, but you can't automate the creation of quality content. More...

October 17, 2002

iRock, but how?

Setting up the iRock is easy, but getting good performance is another matter. The documentation omits both, unfortunately. More...

October 16, 2002

PHP documentation and user feedback

The PHP community provides documentation feedback that gets officially incorporated, what a wonderful thing! More...

October 16, 2002

Cross-platform, but universally slow

A TidBITS Talk message touches on a problem with browser-based help. More...

October 15, 2002

The LindowsOS onscreen overview

When it comes to onscreen overviews, simple is usually best. More...

October 15, 2002

Balancing usability with reality

Making onscreen information usable is hard. But is omitting it completely a better solution? More...

October 10, 2002

Slides from Mac OS X Con session

Download the presentation Providing User Assistance with Apple Help in PDF or PowerPoint format. More...

October 10, 2002

O'Reilly Mac OS X Con follow-up

The Apple Help session at the OS X Con went well, especially with an audience that's ready to embrace the future. More...

October 3, 2002

Does third-party help count?

If a product is well-documented, does it really matter if the information is coming from official or third-party channels? More...

September 25, 2002

Settling for browser-based help

A WinWriter's survey hints at what is important in Web browser-based help. What passes for features is really just the basics. More...

September 22, 2002

Omit unnecessary help

You can actually improve your help system by omitting some types of information. Shocking, but true. More...

September 18, 2002

Designing for information shoppers

A paper by Whitney Quesenbery outlines five of the information models you can use to help users with different goals find information. More...

September 14, 2002

Better "read me" files with TextEdit

On Mac OS X, you can lock TextEdit documents to prevent accidental changes to your read me file. More...

September 12, 2002

Content is king, even on the Web

Gerry McGovern has a unique perspective on Web design -- content matters. This is indeed where Help and Web design intersect. More...

September 8, 2002

Style guides lend experience

The GNOME and Apple style guides are two free resources for use in creating your documentation. More...

September 3, 2002

Product complexity prevents simple instructions?

Poorly organized and complex documentation just reinforces how hard a product is to use -- a disservice to everyone. More...

September 1, 2002

Adobe's Elemental Help

CreativePro's look at Adobe Photoshop Elements provides a useful peek at an integrated approach to Help. More...

August 28, 2002

E-books - the problem is "books" not "e"

Expecting book conventions to work well when words are emphemerally painted onto a single pane of glass is just plain silly. Or lazy. More...

August 27, 2002

Reviewing onscreen help

Getting useful feedback on Help is difficult, as evidenced by David Pogue's NYT review of Mac OS X Jaguar. More...

August 25, 2002

Designing for attitudes

A study from Los Alamos Lab discusses why the notion of Novice vs Expert users isn't the right way to think about documentation. More...

August 18, 2002

TiVo's got a trick for you

A look at why TiVo's "tips and tricks" featurette works well. More...

August 15, 2002

Gems from a WinWriters usability study

Unlike many web usability studies, this one identifies that usability is closely intertwined with the content, not just the implementation. More...

August 10, 2002

Cultural differences in documentation

We've all read stories about advertisements, movies, and slogans that go awry when translated into other languages. Well, the same pitfalls apply to product documentation. More...

August 8, 2002

Apple Help at O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference

I'm presenting the session, along with Jessica Kahn (the lead engineer for Apple Help), and we'll be focusing on the new help features in "Jaguar." More...

August 6, 2002

Would you pay for a third-party PDF manual?

A discussion at Mac Net Journal around the concept of paying a small amount for "full documentation for an application whose developer's don't currently offer a manual." More...

August 6, 2002

Better fonts for Apple Help

Noted hypertext expert Mark Bernstein observes that the inclusion of high-quality typefaces in Mac OS X has opened a new door for website designers. This applies to help, too. More...

August 6, 2002

Kelby's Notes offers plug-in Help

Scott Kelby, a well-published Photoshop guru, has released an interesting new help application. Implemented as a Photoshop plug-in, it adds a "How Do I" menu to the application. More...

August 5, 2002

Why we don't read manuals

This excellent article by Caroline E. Mayer (Washington Post) nails this important question. There are several thoughtful, and painful to read, quotes in the article. More...

August 3, 2002

Designing Apple Help

The Help Viewer in the forthcoming Mac OS X 10.2 ("Jaguar") has been completely re-engineered. But it is descended from the Help Viewer introduced in 1998, with Mac OS 8.5. More...

August 3, 2002

A look at the EyeTV Setup Assistant

Although not often thought of, Assistants (or Wizards, as they are known in MS Windows) are very much a part of the onscreen help system. More...

July 28, 2002

When is Help usable?

Is your help system usable? An article from Donna Timpone covers many of the basics and gives a good overview of specific things to look for. More...

July 23, 2002

When do you use the help?

Anyone who creates help systems or manuals for a living must come to grips with the canard that "nobody reads the documentation." More...

July 13, 2002

A Manifesto

I'm not one to mince words. While others might pine for lengthy printed manuals, I come to bury them. More...

July 11, 2002