Your Favorite Help System?

Looking for examples of particularly well written and useful help systems or manuals. Not the wonderful stuff written by others for when the manuals and help themselves fall short but anything that does a good job out the gate.

Currently working on finally getting around to writing a LambTracker manual and trying to decide on formats, etc.

So do you prefer an on-line manual, PDF, hybrid, etc.

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Not online. I dislike opening my browser (with all the distractions there are) and relying on the Internet to access help. A well crafted PDF manual with hyperlinks would get my first preference, followed by extensive in-app reference.


I like an online manual but only in an addition to a pdf.


I like online help for an app if there’s also a downloadable PDF of the same content in the same format.

I especially like well annotated and clear figures that show where to set or touch an application’s feature. Manuals that are solely text and go though lengthy sequences of “click here … then type here … then click over here … then flip to the next page and click over there …” are useless.

Manuals are not recipe books – they are references and should be well indexed, with internal hyperlinks. The worst cases are when the software is on version 7 and the only help available is for version 3. If a developer is going to publish a manual, they should do the customers the courtesy of keeping it current.


BBEdit’s manual does a pretty decent job of explaining things, imo.

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The medium has never really bothered me. (Though I dislike the zen desk support pages which never have an order just a question box and sections) it’s more about having lots of examples that I’ve found the most useful.


I like having everything in PDF and really hate online manuals because access can be slow and searching problematic.

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Yep a well structured and indexed PDF is my preference too.

Good luck with your documentation work.

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I like both a well made pdf, indexed and all, and a good online manual too.

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Many years ago I read about a help & manual authoring system that suggested a multi point approach to providing help. It made a comparison between the help system and people visiting a city. Some just want to go to a particular and get exactly what they need, so how do I do function x? Hence the need for good examples and indexing. Others want to explore the city and get a feel for what it’s like. This calls for descriptive text of how the system works overall. There was a third type but its been too long and I don’t remember.

As to format, PDF, epub, or similar are always good. In app help is also good, explaining what particular settings do is an example.

An example of bad manuals are automobile manuals that were written by lawyers (sorry David). Too many distracting cautions about not doing something stupid like exiting the car when it’s moving. Very hard to follow.

I really like the approach used by SquareSpace in its help guides and videos. I do wish they had a basic checklist for the minimal things you should put on a new site. However, no one knows what someone else will want in full for a given site. Still, the SqSp help collection is thorough, explaining what, how and why to do something.
I prefer online manuals with a .pdf I can download in case I need help but am offline.
Best of luck! Let me know if you ever pair up with someone to create a cat tracker that doesn’t harm the cat!

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What do you need to track? LambTracker could be used for cat breeding and management pretty much as it is right now. It can handle pig pedigrees so can handle a litter of individuals already. That’s really the only big issue plus selecting the correct names for the males and females of the species involved.