6 ways to improve your help authoring workflow

Technical writing isn't just about producing documents -- it is a business function. For most of us the ultimate goal is to increase the overall profitability of our organization. By increasing the efficiency of our help authoring process we can be more productive, reduce costs, and maintain our sanity by automating tedious tasks.

Here are six ways to improve your help authoring workflow.

  • Use snippets - Any time you see a similar section of content in multiple topics, consider converting it to a snippet. That way you only have to update the content once to have those changes flow to all topics that include the content. If you use MadCap Flare, check out the Snippet Suggest feature in Analyzer.
  • Create online schedules - Use a collaborative scheduling tool so that everyone can stay updated on deadlines. Create a schedule for your project, send a link to all stakeholders so they can approve the schedule, and then create reminders for all deadlines (review dates, delivery dates, and so on).
  • Streamline reviews - Use document management software and Adobe Acrobat to facilitate reviews. Document management tools allow you to upload documents to a server, route the documents to reviewers, and track revisions. Acrobat allows multiple reviewers to make comments in the same PDF file, and you can print a comment summary when it's time to incorporate the changes.
  • Automate your help delivery process - Some HATs, like RoboHelp, offer a command-line option for generating output. You (or a tech-savvy coworker) can author a shell script or BAT file to launch your HAT's compilation process, prepare the output files for delivery, and copy them to your QA server or delivery location. You can automate the archiving process in a similar manner. WinZip offers command-line features for zipping up your project files so they take up less space in your archives.
  • Create email templates - If you are constantly emailing others to assign reviews or inform them that help files have been delivered, consider creating email templates that contain boilerplate text for each kind of message. Not only will this save you time, it will also remind you to include all of the important details. (I picked up this trick from a savvy manager.)
  • Share with others - By sharing the scripts, templates, and other time-saving tools with others in your department, you can increase the overall productivity of your entire team. This is a great way for technical writers to directly improve the company's bottom line and leave extra room in the budget for better tools and fun stuff like catered lunches, expensive coffee, and trips to the bowling alley.

Hopefully these tips will help you spend less time struggling with your help authoring workflow.