Whatfix – The Smart Way To Tech-Write

Anuradha Technical Writing
Whatfix – The smart way to Tech-Write

Technical writers are a rather harried lot!

They are not considered as critical to a product development team as software developers or testers. Their work is not estimated or budgeted adequately. There is very less focus on team building or skill building for technical writing teams. The demand for new sophisticated tech writing tools is generally turned down owing to budgetary constraints. The list of troubles they face is quite exhaustive.

On the other hand, the quality of output produced by the technical writers – instruction manuals, help documents, FAQs, demos – needs to match the high standards of the product itself. The delivery deadlines are also the same. In fact, technical documentation is the first artifact that a user encounters – even before the actual product itself!

However, the goal of this article is not to simply enumerate their problems. If you are reading this article, you are probably a technical writer yourself or you work closely with them. You must already be familiar with the difficulties faced. Let’s instead focus on an innovative solution that has the potential to sort out several of the common problems faced.

The solution being recommended is Whatfix – a new way of looking at technical documentation, through real-time interactive walkthroughs.

In my past avatar as a System Engineer of an IT product in an MNC, I had a chance to experience first-hand, some of the troubles technical documentation teams face. And now, after close association with the Whatfix team, I realize in hindsight, quite a few of those problems we faced earlier, could have been averted if we had a product like Whatfix in the market then!

By enumerating these typical problems and how Whatfix can be used to solve them, I am hoping to share my learning with the community at large.

1. Generating voluminous technical documents involves huge designing, writing, reviewing, and editing effort.

Technical support documents must be exhaustive, cover every possible user scenario in words. Why? Because that’s the accepted norm in the market. This unwritten rule leads to spending hours in setting page layouts, proof-reading documents, editing, and writing.

Whatfix disrupts the very idea of lengthy continuous written content. Help is not a lengthy story opened in a separate window. Instead, it appears as short and clear instructions on the product page itself. So, the technical writer’s job is to simply point to the corresponding menu/button/input box and create a one liner tooltip on what to do next.

Let’s take a simple example – help on “How to sign-in to Gmail”

Gmail does it in the traditional way. Creates a separate help web page and gives all instructions at once.

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Using Whatfix, it would simply be a tooltip in the form of an orange balloon right on the sign-in page of Gmail.

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See the full live flow here – https://whatfix.com/community/#!flows/google-login-process/040e0cc0-5f32-11e3-9168-386077c653fe/

2. To make help more self-explanatory, screenshots of the product, sophisticated images and graphics need to be added to the help. Expensive tools are required for creating such graphics.

Images help to pack “more” content in “less” pages. Technical writers require expensive sophisticated tools like Abode Photoshop to create animated graphics of their product usage. Smaller product companies might not afford to sanction such tools for their technical documentation teams.

Whatfix has a unique feature – Live Walkthroughs – that turns the idea of snapshots upside down. You don’t put product snapshots in your help document. You put your help snippets directly into the live product page! The user reads the snippet in the Whatfix balloon and performs the action accordingly on the page. And your job is done! The snippet could be a supporting text, picture, video, website link, anything. So, reading help about a task and performing the task are not separate tasks anymore. Learn as you work!

Also Read: How Technical Writing Is Changing With The Times

3. Keeping the technical documents in sync with the actual product features during the product upgrades and defect fixes is an uphill task.

Every time a product feature is updated during bug fixing or feature upgrades, modifying the online help and FAQs accordingly is critical. However, technical writers find it difficult to keep track of these changes and many a time, the product changes don’t reflect in the technical documents.

Whatfix help balloons can be embedded into the product window. If there is a change in the product feature, the corresponding Whatfix help balloon will automatically need to be corrected, or it will lose its association with the product feature. In most cases, the correction would be a minuscule effort or no effort at all!

4. Help content gets replicated in various document forms. Repeating help content and managing consistency between all forms is a major challenge for technical writers.

Many a time, technical writers churn out repetitive content – as online help pages, printed hand-outs, video demos, FAQs, etc – for various user scenarios. There is considerable effort involved in altering the format, and layout of the content to suit the medium, while the content remains more or less the same.

Whatfix does this replication job for you automatically! You generate a help flow for a user scenario and save it. Then access the same help content as:

Slideshow – can be used to archive the information as a knowledge base.
PDF document – Sequential screenshots to show the user activity flow. Can be used in a blog or as printed hand-outs.
Video – the user activity flow can be viewed as a running video.
Live walkthroughs – The URL can be sent across multiple touch-points like emails, chats, social media.

5. Help content for online products needs to comply with certain technical standards. Technical writers with traditional skills might find this tough.

DITA (Document Information Typing Architecture) and SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) are popular industry standards for e-learning software products. Only expensive tools such as Adobe RoboHelp comply with these standards. Technical writers used to the traditional methods of documentation might find this standards compliance a difficult task.

Whatfix is both DITA and SCORM compatible. With zero coding, the easy to use Whatfix editor churns out rich interactive guides, for effective user engagement.

Technical writers are in dire need of solutions that save time, minimize effort and enhance user understanding of the products through crisp, on-the-spot help. Whatfix fits quite nicely into this requirement. Worth a try!

Anuradha

Anuradha

Anuradha is a freelance writer cum corporate trainer in the IT / telecom domain with over 16 years experience. She served in senior technical and management positions in Huawei and TCS for 10+ years. Then gave up the traditional corporate ladder to go solo - in order to escape horrendous city traffic and to be her own boss !
Anuradha

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