Thursday, March 3, 2011
When I was a technical writer, I often felt that a computer could be doing a lot of the software API documentation instead of me. AutoDoc is a program that would enable you to define basic tasks in your program that you wish to document and would create the documentation according to where, how, and what you clicked or typed. AutoDoc would either interface with your software or perform screen captures and OCR to get window, field, and box names and images for the document. Based on a set of predefined templates and a dictionary of technical writing terminology, AutoDoc would then describe your actions in a simple and user-friendly way. For example, if you right-click a button with the mouse, AutoDoc would write "In the [window/tab-name], right-click [button-name]". According to the template you selected, a result of the action could be included (i.e., "The [window-name] window appears") as well as an image of that window. The templates could also include customizable font style definitions and color schemes, to name a few. The process would be something like:
1) Run AutoDoc.
2) Run your program.
3) Press F8 to begin AutoDoc mode. The define task window would appear.
4) Enter the name of the task you wish to perform in your program and click OK.
5) Perform the task in your program and press F8 when you are done.
AutoDoc would then document the procedure in your word processor exactly how you performed it yourself, with all the necessary screenshots. If you happen to be the programmer who created the feature, you are guaranteed documentation consistency and accuracy (assuming you know what you are doing).
AutoDoc would need a few hundred hours of programming to get started but shouldn’t require much more than that for basic functionality. A technical writer should also be in on the project to correctly define the dictionary of technical writing terminology. AutoDoc could be offered free with basic functionality which would already make many a technical writer very happy. It could then be enhanced with added functionality and templates and licenses could be sold. I think AutoDoc would cut the costs for many software developing companies due to reduced documentation expenses. That is, a technical documentation company will charge much less for editing an already existing document than for documenting a program from scratch. With AutoDoc, you could be providing the technical documentation company with a rough draft of your program's user guide and only requesting that they edit and perhaps write some introductory material in each chapter about the technologies used by your software. Alternatively, if you are a freelance technical writer, you could save up to 50% of the project time by using AutoDoc and either offer more attractive rates to your customers or make a whole lot more dough.