Friday, January 9, 2009

Quick Tips to Create Software Product Tutorials


This post is written by Rupa Rajagopalan


A software product tutorial essentially helps users work with the features of the product. So it is mandatory that tutorials have concise and precise tasks and steps to work with the product. Most importantly software product tutorials must be help users achieve something by using the product.



Things you must do before you begin


#1 Explore the product and its features thoroughly

#2 Try working with the product features yourself



When you must start writing product tutorials


#1 When you know everything that you need to know about the product

#2 When you know the product and understand why users must use the product

#3 When you are very sure of the features, the tasks that you can do with the features and the steps for each of the tasks



Quick Tips to Create Software Product Tutorials


Tip 1

Create end to end software product tutorials.For example here is a tutorial that teaches you to create realistic water reflection using Photoshop. As you can see this tutorial helps you achieve something using Photoshop and that is why this tutorial is an end to end tutorial.



Tip 2

Always start with a brief description about the feature and add details such as why users must use the feature. For example in this tutorial on MS Word, there is a short audio text which mentions how the track changes feature is useful when you revise and make changes to a document and when that document has to be used by many others.



Tip 3

List what you are going to cover in the tutorial at the outset. This must cover all the tasks that one can do with the product feature. For example in this tutorial on MS Word, all the tasks that one can do using the Track Changes feature have been listed as learning objectives in the first page.



Tip 4

Disclose the end result of the tutorial. For example in this tutorial that helps you create your first PowerPoint presentation, it will be a good idea to show a complete presentation at the outset and guide the learners to create that specific presentation. This way the users would find the tutorial object oriented.


A good example is this photoshop tutorial which shows you in the begninning the photo effect you can create following the steps in the tutorial.


So the user is very clear about what he/she is going to achieve by taking the tutorial.



Tip 5

List the tasks in a logical order. The sequence of tasks must lead users to the end result. For example the logical order of some of the the tasks to create a PowerPoint presentation are:

  • Create a New Slide
  • Change the Layout of the Slide
  • Add Text
  • Add Images
  • Insert Slide Notes
  • Add Animations

Here the order of the tasks are very important.



Tip 6

Write precise instructions. For example Click on the word and choose Copy from the context menu is not a precise instruction. What the writer meant was Select the word, right-click and choose Copy from the context menu.



Tip 7

Make sure you write the button or tab names exactly the way it appears in the product. I have spent hours searching for buttons and tabs suggested by tutorials and which I could not find in the product.



Tip 8

Make sure you write the steps for each task logically and correctly. For example to the steps to create a new presentation in PowerPoint are:

  1. Select File -> New from the Main Menu.
  2. In the New Presentation Task Pane , choose Blank Presentation.

Tip 9

After you write the tutorial, follow the instructions you have written and execute the tutorial. This will help you identify the errors.


7 comments:

Manish Mohan on January 8, 2010 at 1:52 PM said...

Submitted on 2009/01/09 at 1:48pm

Great tips Rupa. Thanks.

Adding to your tips:
10. When there is more than one way to complete a task, teach about the most commonly used method. You may provide other methods as additional info or as an additional tip for the learners.

Would love the readers to add more tips to create software product tutorials.

Rupa Rajagopalan on January 8, 2010 at 1:52 PM said...

Submitted on 2009/01/09 at 1:54pm

That was a good tip Manish. I usually put the alternative ways to complete the task as a note.Hope to see more tips here :-)

Ken Allen on January 8, 2010 at 1:53 PM said...

Submitted on 2009/01/12 at 3:49pm

Kia ora Rupa

What a neat post! I applaud your need for precision in instruction. Your Tip 7, for instance, is one I put into practice in the late 80s - I wrote instruction tutorials for software use then. But I also gave the courses, and the tutorials I wrote were the course tutorials too - so they had to be right. What you say about getting the terminology so correct is spot on. I’d go further and say it should actually look in the instruction exactly as it appears in the app.

From time to time I was required to write tutorials for software that wasn’t built yet - vapourware we used to call it. That was a hard call. I used to draft the tutorial and fill in the details when I got my hands on the final draft of the app - not a comfortable job - but that’s life.

Catchya later
from Middle-earth

Rupa Rajagopalan on January 8, 2010 at 1:53 PM said...

Submitted on 2009/01/13 at 12:04pm

Hi Ken, Thank you for reading my post and appreciating. I also write tutorials for products that are still under development. I just keep updating material. I really need to check the material I write from time to time :-) I appreciate that you make it a point to share your experiences all the time.

Swati Roy said...

Submitted on 2009/01/13 at 2:16pm

Nice tips, Rupa. I would extrapolate Tip 7 using the example from Tip 8.

When writing procedures, as you mentioned, it’s extremely important to retain the names of all UI elements as they appear in the application. Towards this end, it’s also important to differentiate between the names of the options the application presents and the generic names of these options. Look at the steps to create a new presentation in PowerPoint once again:

1. Select File -> New from the Main Menu.
2. In the New Presentation Task Pane , choose Blank Presentation.

Here, “File,” “New,” “New Presentation,” and “Blank Presentation” are names of the options in the application UI and “Main Menu” and “Task Pane” are generic names of these options–these are descriptors that qualify the feature as a component of the UI (for example, menu, button, pane, dialog box, text field, commands, and others) but that are not mentioned on the UI. Therefore, it’s important to differentiate between the two and a good way to do this to by writing the application options in initial uppercase (or as they appear in the application UI) and the generic names in lowercase. Going by this rule, the modified procedure would be:
1.
Select File -> New from the main menu.
In the New Presentation task pane, choose Blank Presentation.
This differentiation rules out the possibility of users looking for “Main Menu” or other generic options in the application UI.

Rupa Rajagopalan on January 8, 2010 at 1:54 PM said...

Submitted on 2009/01/13 at 3:11pm

Swati, am glad you have brought out a very important point .

Your example illustrates how capitalization plays an important role in writing instructions. Task Pane is so different from task pane. Task Pane is specific and task pane is generic.

You really need to pay so much attention to what tyou write while writing software tutorials. I really appreciate your point.

By the way I wrote Task Pane because that’s how it appears in the tool tip in MS PowerPoint :-)

Joshua Smith on July 21, 2011 at 5:41 PM said...

It was amazing to read many good facts in this review. To improve the business it's offered to use software development companies to appear on IT markets. Software development allows to automate business processes and earn more profits.

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