February 22, 2010 Program Overview

“Best Practices for Explaining Software
Programs — Trends, Tools, and Technologies”

WritersUA Conference Logo
At this unique event, we welcomed software user assistance expert Joe Welinske, president of WritersUA, a Seattle company that is devoted to providing training and information for user assistance professionals.

This presentation provided an overview of the latest trends in software user assistance, defined some of the key terminology, highlighted the most important technologies, and offered several predictions on future directions of the field.

Joe gave us a briefing on the most recent developments in this fulfilling and challenging domain, and explained how it touches many segments of the software and Web design industries. You might be involved in it without fully realizing it. For example:

  • Your company might produce software that employees or customers use.
  • You might be involved in creating software user guides, Help systems, or training.
  • You may be marketing software products that you need to explain or demonstrate.
  • You could be a student or professional interested in joining the ranks of technical communicators who work with software products or Web services.

The number of companies on the California Central Coast that are designing, developing, or adapting software for commercial or government use continues to skyrocket. Likewise, the opportunities in the burgeoning field of "software user assistance" continue to grow steadily and require legions of qualified people.

What exactly is "user assistance"? Think of the last software program you used and how easy or difficult it was to interpret. Where did you go when you needed guidance? Did you successfully turn to the documentation or Help system, for example, or did you ultimately become frustrated and call technical support for help? And if you're a professional who already develops software user assistance, are you aware of how useful it is from your customer's point of view?

Consider that effective user assistance is much more than "Help." It encompasses a wide range of skills and technologies that together improve the software user's experience, as follows:

  • User assistance professionals create wizards, tutorials, and Web-based training.
  • They develop and populate knowledge bases and content management systems.
  • Printed manuals and their PDF equivalents are still an important element of the user documentation.
  • Many professionals are now embedding helpful content directly into the user interface.
  • They are often involved with usability testing, localization, testing, quality assurance, and branding.

In the area of cutting-edge techniques, for example, Joe discussed how Google, blogs, and even Twitter can play valuable roles in helping customers access relevant information about software they use. It's therefore up to the creative imagination of user assistance professionals to find effective ways of reaching software audiences through Web 2.0 social media, mobile devices, and other channels.

The user assistance domain thus represents one of the most important and promising areas of technical communication. Our audience members left with a clearer picture of how they can develop or fine-tune their skills to get in step with the current needs of the powerful software industry.

(See below for Joe Welinski's bio and contact information)

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Here is a link to the presentation:

Questions? Please contact Joe Welinski at WritersUA:

  • Phone: (206) 405-0923

“Best Practices for Explaining Software Programs — Trends, Tools, and Technologies”
Date: Monday evening, February 22, 2010

Joe Welinski, president of WritersUA. WritersUA is a company devoted to providing training and information for user assistance professionals.

The WritersUA/WinWriters Conference draws hundreds of attendees each year from around the world to share the latest in user assistance design and implementation. The free content on the WritersUA web site attracts over 20,000 visitors each month.

Joe has been involved with software documentation development since 1984. Together with Scott Boggan and David Farkas, Joe authored two editions of the popular and pioneering book Developing Online Help for Windows.

He has also taught online Help courses at the University of Washington, UC Santa Cruz, and Bellevue Community College. Joe received a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from the University of Illinois in 1981, and a M.S. in Adult Instructional Management from Loyola University in 1987. Joe was the President of STC Puget Sound Chapter from 2006-2008 and remains on the board in charge of gathering chapter sponsorships.

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