Online Information Systems

Online documentation is also known as online help, help systems, or on-screen help and need to be designed to be viewed online 0r on a screen.
The structure and organization of such systems are different from PDF or hard-copy documents which are meant to be printed.

Online Information System

Writing for the Online World

In our increasingly online-savvy world, it is critical to have well-written, well-organized online help and websites.

Poorly designed online help and information systems waste valuable user time, cause frustration, and drive customers away. In contrast, a well-designed, carefully thought-out online system can be a joy to use.

Consistent organization of topics, clear navigation, quick access to key topics, and intuitive cross-referencing and links to related subjects can make your user’s experience productive and useful.

Types of Online Information Systems

Online information systems allow you to collect, organize, store, and process information that once used to be exclusively available as hard-copy. Online information systems can be classified as follows:

 

Web Sites

Websites are a group of related topics with content such as text, images, video, audio etc. Websites are typically hosted on a web-server, and are accessible to uses through networks such as the world wide web (WWW), private networks (intranets), or through an internet address.

Websites can be public or private, and may have encrypted security to allow privacy for the user of that web page. Unlike many online documentation systems, websites typically are classified by their function:

  • Personal Website
  • Commercial Websites
  • Government Websites
  • Corporate Websites

Today, web content has diversified to the point where its function often overlaps with that of Online Help Systems. There are many tools available for the production of websites, including Adobe Dreamweaver and WordPress.

 

WebHelpWebsites

WebHelp is cross-platform, browser independent help system that provides similar features to the HTML Help systems. It uses a combination of HTML, DHTML, JavaScript, Java, and ActiveX.

This is a more versatile system since its results can be displayed on most web browsers, and works across multiple platforms (Windows, Mac OS, UNIX, etc). It can be delivered through the internet, or as a stand-alone set of HTML files on a computer.

WebHelp provides many user-friendly features that are easily implemented, and easily modified. These include:

  • Glossary of terms.
  • Keyword indexes.
  • Search capabilities.
  • Expanding and collapsing Table of Contents
  • Easy to setup multiple templates for different types of content pages.
  • Can easily hyperlink to related topics and the WWW.
  • Cross-platform compatibility.
  • Ability to single-source Webhelp topics to Hard-Copy and Online usage.
  • Browse sequencing of topics to increase ease-of-use by grouping related topics together.

Adobe Robohelp is the most popular and powerful tool for developing Compiled Help Systems.

HTML Help (CHM)

This popular help format uses a triple-pane format (Index, Contents, and Search) to present its content. It runs exclusively on the Windows environment, and is typically used to develop context-sensitive help for software that runs on the Windows platform. HTML Help consists of a series of topics, where each topic is a single HTML file. All these topics are compiled into a single .CHM file, making it easy to distribute and control the help file. In addition, multiple CHM file can be merged at run-time so that they run as a single, seamless Help System.

HTML help can include features such as:

  • Browse sequencing of topics to increase ease-of-use by grouping related topics together.
  • Context sensitive linking of topics to screens or interface elements in a software product.
  • Expanding and collapsing Table of Contents.
  • Glossary of terms.
  • Keyword indexes.

HTML Help is restricted in its page formatting capabilities, and its ability to handle large graphics. It provides limited navigation and search capabilities.

Adobe Robohelp and Madcap Flare are both popular tools for developing Compiled Help Systems.

Document Management Systems (DMS)

Document Management Systems are not true Online Help Systems. Instead, they allow organizations to manage, classify, and organize a broad variety of documents, produced in a variety of software applications, and make these documents available to groups within that organization.

Document Management Systems are used to manage documents throughout their entire life-cycle. A good DMS allows users to classify their own records, search for and retrieve information, and organize information into logical units. DMS allows organizations to:

  • Capture and manage information in many different formats.
  • Manage the document life-cycle from creation, distribution, storage, to archival.
  • Make information available to everyone in their organization.
  • Reduce duplication of effort.
  • Increase the use of standard practices.

 

Our Experience

User GuidesOur team has extensive experience in writing for the online media – both Internet and Intranet. We apply our knowledge of user requirements to optimize the interface and navigation for each web project. Our online projects range from editing and modifying existing online help and web systems, to the development of new, easy-to-use online help systems for software products, SOPs, or business processes.

See the following topics for more information:

  • Web Usability Considerations – See this topic for information about how we integrate effective usability techniques into every web and online information system that we develop.
  • Our Experience – For examples of our work.

Our Online e-Development Methodology

Our web development projects follow our proven documentation process.Our Online e-Development Methodology
As part of this standard process, the Analysis and Design Phase of our web development projects can also include:

  • A description of our development strategy for online documentation systems.
  • A prototype of the graphic layout of the e-page, including all navigational features.
  • An outline of the information structure and organization for the e-content.

We address these requirements by:

Developing information systems with intuitive and logical navigation to topics. The attention paid to developing these navigation systems helps to:

  • Reduce the time and number of ‘clicks’ required for users to find critical content.
  • Build useful relationships between related topics through the use of carefully thought-out hyperlinks.
Use concise, standard English at a level that matches the knowledge-base of your users. We aim to:

  • Reduce the use of jargon and unnecessary technical terms.
  • Provide usable and understandable information.

Implementing modular, consistent structures for all the topics in our information systems in order to:

  • Build recognizable patterns of information so that, users are able to easily find critical content.
  • Allow for easy, online scanning of content.
  • Reduce costs of updates and upgrades.
  • Reuse information across multiple topic areas.
The ability to re-use information across multiple platforms (online, web, PDF, print, etc) is critical in the current business world. You can save considerable time and money by building information systems that allow for single sourcing the same piece of information across multiple delivery platforms.
Good indexing and keyword definition is a fine art that few writers have successfully accomplished. Knowing which keywords and index items users are most likely to search by will make your online systems much easier to use. We specialize in integrating this aspect of navigation into our online information systems.

We detail all these critical elements before we begin authoring a single word. Our team members work closely with you to identify the specific goals to be met by each of your online projects. For example, you may require one or more of the following in your online information system:

  • Easy and quick access to information.
  • Understandable English with minimal jargon.
  • Quick access to related topics.
  • Ability to single-source information to create print documentation.
  • Indexing and keyword identification.

Our Online Help Projects

WebHelp

The following are some of the companies for whom we have created online help projects:


See Our Experience with Online and Web Development Projects for more details about our various online help projects.