Software Publishing: Distributing The User Documentation Of Your Solution

From Dwayne Wright - Certified FileMaker 9 Developer
TWITTER: dwaynewright

This is part of my ongoing series of articles about setting up your own software publishing business (cause FileMaker is very good option for doing that). This was originally published by me in a guide called FileMaker Software Publishing back in 2002. .

There are a number of ways to distribute help information and I’ve experimented with most of them. For the most part it comes down to interactive help, a manual / tutorial or a combination thereof.

The interactive help is done by providing a button on each layout, a script from the Script menu or both. This takes you to a layout or a separate FileMaker file with help content. A single layout allows you to print all the documentation in one shot. The single FileMaker file can have a help topic saved as an individual record in the database. This allows you to be able to use the FIND command for help topics. The single file also allows you to have your FileMaker production screen open at the same time as the help screen because they are individual files. The individual help file does make the printing of a manual a little more complicated but by all means possible.

The printable manual and/or tutorial is another powerful method. As a community, we are programmed from childhood to read documentation from thinly sliced sections of dead trees ( paper ). Some individuals ( including myself ) have troubles reading documentation in tiny little help screens. We like to have our documentation in front of us, write notes on it, use a highlighter and perhaps even take it with us and read from a remote location ( coffee shop, treadmill, etc… ). Another advantage of printed documentation is that you can only distribute it to registered users. This is another way of encouraging shareware users to purchase the product.

The most widely accepted way of distributing printed documentation these days is via the pdf document that can be also be read directly from a web site.

One method I’m beginning to employ more and more is the blog. This is a quick and low cost (often free) method of distributing information about a product. The blog doesn’t have default organization capabilities by chapter but you can try to build those in as blog pages themselves. Check out my FileMaker Book Via A Blog site and see how the experiment is working for me.

The best method ( which is of course involves the most work ) is the combination plate of interactive and printable help. Although, it doesn’t have to be too time consuming. You can take the content of one and put it into the other. For example, you can create an interactive help system and then combine them into a printable manual.

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© 2008 - Dwayne Wright -

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