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Should I use Adobe Robohelp or Madcap Flare?

Adobe Robohelp versus Madcap Flare

Comparing the two most popular single source help authoring programs

 

Robohelp and Flare — What’s the big deal?

When technical writers create a large project like a user manual, it takes a long time and costs a lot of money. The idea is to create such documents only once (single source). With Robohelp and Flare, the document can then be used in print, help files, online, etc. 

Writers make changes and updates to the document. These changes then appear in each format. This not only makes updates easier and faster but helps writers maintain document standards.

This kind of software saves money on labor, time in writing and formatting, and frustration in keeping information consistent. 

 

Are they worth it?

That depends. Robohelp and Flare are expensive and have a steep learning curve. So they are best for organizations that have large documents that they want to use in several formats. This tends to be user guides, help systems, procedure and policy manuals, and so on.

If you are frequently writing new documents only for print, this kind of software would not benefit you.

 

Which is easier to learn?

Robohelp and flare are not easy. In my opinion, Flare is harder to learn than Robohelp but it has better support, which you should use as much as possible. If you do so, you’ll learn the basics  of Flare quickly.

 

So which is better?

I am not going to go into the exquisite details about each program. That can be found in other places.  In my opinion, Adobe Robohelp is better for companies who mainly deal with print output and pdfs but also need HTML sometimes. MadCap Flare is better for businesses who plan to use mainly HTML output but also want occasional print output. 

 

And if we’re still not sure?

If you aren’t sure which to get, try them out. Both Robohelp and Flare offer free trials for you to see how you like the programs. The Robohelp trial is for 30 days and works normally during that time. The Flare trial is also for 30 days, but any content you create has scrambled letters. On the other hand, you get free telephone help during your Flare trial (you’ll need it).

 

What about using other languages?

Many companies sell products internationally, so software that can handle other languages is a must. MadCap Flare has a partner program called MadCap Lingo that works well with Flare. I found Lingo easy to learn and use.

 

Need help with your help system?

I can advise and assist you in setting up a help system for your business, whether it be a few user manuals or an entire single source help authoring system. Contact me and let’s talk.

Clarity in Technical Writing

Why is clarity in tech writing important?

Where your writing and product will end up if you do not write clearly.

Clear writing communicates exactly what you want to say. The ideas are organized and easy to follow. They create no questions or confusion in the reader’s mind. He or she does not have to stop, go back, and re-read a sentence to clearly understand it. Clarity is paramount.

The reader is confident of the authority of knowledge in the text. The words on the page do not draw attention to themselves or create doubt.

The Dangers of Fuzzy Tech Writing

Unfortunately, this is not always so. Fuzzy instructions that do not illuminate in user manuals or badly-worded procedures can frustrate and enrage a user. They may throw the manual into the garbage and curse the product as a rip-off. 

victim of bad writing

Clarity is paramount, and Strunk and White explained this beautifully:

Muddiness is not merely a disturber of prose, it is also a destroyer of life, of hope; death on a highway caused by a badly worded road sign, heartbreak among lovers caused by a misplaced phrase in a well-intentioned letter, anguish of a traveler expecting to be met at a railroad station and not being met because of a slipshod telegram. Think of the tragedies that are rooted in ambiguity, and be clear! When you say something, make sure you have said it. The chances of your having said it are only fair.

 

Confusing User Manuals = Bad Product

One thing we tech writers have to keep in mind — Most users do not distinguish between manuals and products.

Even this dude get confused sometimes.

A confusing manual equals a bad product and vice-versa. Who hasn’t chuckled at an IKEA’s user manuals and forgiven some of the products shortcomings (particle board shelves)? And, on buying a Macbook, would we not expect the documentation to be as simple and elegant as the computer itself?

Many user guides have beautiful layouts. Apple’s user manuals are artsy and elegant. Dyson’s are colorful and bold. Many online user guides flow smoothly on our computer screens or tablets. 

Yet, no matter how nice the guide looks, it must first and foremost be clear to the user.