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Whats the best way to present/design user manual for a web application?

Problem :

I have a web application where i am going to share/present user manual to end user and client,Usual way of documenting with screen cuts were so long and time consuming,what would be the best way to present a user manual for a web application?

Possible solutions :

I explored following solutions which might be the possible solutions

  1. Design a chm file and provide it to customer : As usability we can read left and right hand side

  2. Presenting a video demo with step by step execution: As usability wise it would be interactive ,the one way is to generate was with swf files

3.Making a video presentation with animated characters : this one might be good if the end users were children,but as professional manner it might not be suitable

4.making magazine type presentation : Presenting the user with magazine type manual like flipbook etc

What i am looking for :

Apart from above solutions,what might be the innovative way to present a usermanual for web application?

I would like to count on usability and more professional way while presenting it

what were the community suggestions towards usermanual?

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From my experience users doesn’t read manuals from start to finish. They often find themselves in a solution where they can’t complete their task by their own or by asking a colleague. So when creating a manual we need to address this task based thinking.

Which media to use is often irrelevant, more important it that the manual resolve the task at hand quickly and without the hassle of browsing through a +100 pages Document with endless screenshots. Instead I’d use the powers of the web where you can put all the different content, categorized and structured for the user tasks. If the task is complex and difficult – a step-by-step video is great to follow. If the task is simple, just write down what the user need to do and supply a screenshot.

Possibly you could allow feedback in forms of comment on every task. And based on these comments a privileged author could edit the content. If that’s you or someone trusted within the organization, doesn’t really matter. Just make sure that manual is updated frequently as the first version isn’t always the best one. If you have experienced users, a wiki may be a good solution. And don’t forget to have a good search engine supporting the manual, so that users can find the content they need – quick.

Keywords are task oriented, searchable and a well-structured manual.

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Being a web app means that your engineers can change it at any moment. That means you need to be able to update the documentation just as fast.

Being a web app means that it will run on multiple browswers. That means that user assistance has to be available in every environment where app might run.

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Many of the modern sites are using coach marks which walk you through the basics. Google is using it when it redesign its applications (Gmail, Photos) and when it launched Inbox.

It shows up when you first login to the service. When you complete the guide you no longer see it but you have the option to relaunch it in some way or another.

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