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How Microsoft Visual Studio Is Doing Help

by Tom Johnson on Nov 7, 2009 •
categories: technical-writing

The following 10 minute video shows what's new in the help system for the upcoming release of Visual Studio 2010 Beta 2.


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The key trends are as follows:

  • Help is embedded in a browser because the browser is the predominant mode people use to find information.
  • Search is the main method for navigating content. There's still a table of contents, but no more index.
  • When you choose a topic, you see contextual topics related to the topic you're viewing.
  • You can choose to include online content into the search.
  • The help is "decoupled" from the Visual Studio application, so the help authors can update the help without waiting for the next release of Visual Studio. (This is what I referred to in my content independence post.)

The direction the Visual Studio Help team is moving reflects my own trends as well: moving towards a web-like experience with help, relying more on search, adding contextual topics based on what the user is viewing, and publishing help in a location I can update on the fly.

(Thanks to Keith Soltys for the link.)

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the California San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.

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