How HTML Templates Help in Creating Online Software Documentation
Creating software docs is a sort of work with a high concentration of routine operations. Being exhaustive in both meanings, this job, luckily, can be automated with HTML templates. A good HTML template for documentation gets already half of the work done, for both software development and maintenance stages.
Why HTML Templates?
Software documentation is more than plain text. In addition to text explanations about desired or actual features of the software, it requires screenshots or other pictures, video instructions, examples, probably some interactive elements. Besides that, many features are interconnected, so the user needs the possibility to quickly jump to related sections by just clicking a link on a term that needs some explanation. Finally, a place for interactive communication between developers, testers, users, and stakeholders may be required.
Even offline versions of software documentation are HTML-based. However, the best way to keep the docs always updated and relevant to the actual software version is to keep the documentation online. Its users won’t have to worry whether they have the right Help files: it’s always as fresh as your version. It’s especially required for the development phase.
Making software documentation is a sort of work that needs a detailed, exhaustive approach, leaving no feature (and no bug as well) uncovered. Given this, routine work should be minimized and automated. That’s when templates come to the rescue.
Looking through a number of templates can give you an idea of how your documentation should look like. Not only should it be in line with the design of your software. It should be readable and comprehensive by itself to ensure the readers will understand it, regardless of their competencies.
How a Template Looks
A good template has all the elements necessary built-in, including:
- Fonts (to grant the pages look like they’re supposed to)
- Images (both background ones and sample screenshots and other illustrations)
- HTML elements to use in pages
- Its own documentation, explaining and describing its elements (style files, fonts, blocks, etc.)
The last option is necessary: not only does it show how to use HTML (despite the assumption you are not new to it), but already shows the template creators know how documentation should work.
Given how diverse devices are today, the template should be optimized for desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets, no matter if it’s Windows, Linux, Mac, iOS, or Android (or even Smart TV). Responsive design compatibility is the key.
What Do You Win?
While HTML is a standard language for making any online documents, and your company probably has specialists that are not new to it, making documentation still requires a lot of effort and time. Using templates saves you a lot of both. Given how monotonous this work can get, any shortcut is a good idea.
Different sorts of documentation addressing various audiences should be designed differently. Describing an API for third-party developers is not the same as making a HELP file for regular customers. Roadmaps for investors and guidelines for crew members can be written in a more sophisticated manner if it’s required to explain it right. However, customers need it clear and simple. That’s why you might need more than one template. In addition, it will help managers and writers not to confuse various parts of the projects.
If you choose between various templates, you can find some elements of one great but another one overall better. Then it might come as a good idea to embed the best elements of one into another template. It can also inspire you to create some original elements. But don’t pursue originality too hard. That’s why templates are a good idea: the time-tested solutions are generally better.
Adjusting the Template to Your Needs
As soon as you purchase the template, you obtain all the necessary rights to edit and refine it. It will be necessary anyway when it comes to your text instructions, screenshots or other pictures, or hyperlinks. But you can edit other parameters as well.
- It might be completely or slightly different for various parts of it, depending on the content.
- You just need to enter the right colors for your fonts, backgrounds, and whatever, right in the main code. Anyway, they need to be adjusted to your product’s design.
- Custom pages. If your software requires some special instructions not provided in the template, you can deeply customize a page and make it look like you want it to.
It takes some HTML knowledge to edit these elements without ruining the template. In addition, the new elements should either be in line with the overall style or change it equally all over the documentation so that the style remains through. If the template is done properly, it comes with its own documentation, explaining the basics of editing and adjusting it.
How to Make Your Documentation Work
The first thing to ensure is that your online documentation works as a website, with all the content loading, and all the hyperlinks leading where they should. Well, treat it like a regular website, test it on your localhost, and then upload where it belongs. Check external links if any. Update them regularly, as they are out of your control.
One of the most important aspects is versioning, especially if your software is constantly evolving, ditching some features, and adding others. It might turn out that many of your customers willingly prefer older versions (that thus do not get dated). If this is the case, you will end up supporting different versions of the same product, and this “multiverse” will require separate documentation versions.
Where Do You Get Templates & Where Do Templates Get You?
In short, it’s an easy solution to minimize time and effort on documentation. At the same time, templates are usually made with respect to some written or unwritten guidelines. So you make it righter, faster, and better.
There are specialized studios that create templates for software documentation. Knowing what it takes makes these templates usable from the start, or after a minor adjustment. So you can focus on the content, getting your project ready in less time.