Part III: The Evolution of Help Authoring Tools : Writing and Reading Alignment
Writing and Reading Alignment
During the early days of personal computing, help documentation was almost universally delivered via printed text. The natural alignment of the technical communicator’s writing environment and the end user’s format required very few features beyond the standard word processor and basic diagrams. There was no conversion necessary to provide an acceptable user experience.
However, as technology advanced, end users began to shift to other reading environments. Native system help like WinHelp and digital documents like PDFs began to gain adoption. HATs followed suit, building tools that allowed companies to author their help documentation in one environment and publish to another. Microsoft Word, Adobe FrameMaker, and DITA became the standard authoring environments, and reading formats expanded to online help, browser-based help, wikis, and beyond.
With the bifurcation of the needs of the writer versus the needs and expectations of the reader, it has become clearer that HATs will eventually evolve to accommodate these diverse needs using a workflow that automates the transformation from a “writer friendly” format to a “reader friendly” format. Indeed, this trend has already been adopted in other data-centric solutions, i.e., databases and customer relationship management systems, where data can be easily moved from one system or format to another.
The dramatic increase in input and output formats requires HATs to be on continuous guard for required format updates or version enhancements. Yearly product updates, standard in the HAT community, are now being outpaced by the increased release cycles elsewhere in the software industry. Quarterly updates may be the new standard for keeping HAT users fully supported.