Four User Assistance Publishing Platform Types

User Assistance in the CloudBefore creating user assistance (user guides, articles, videos, online help, classes, courses, curricula, certifications, assessments, etc.), part of the process of planning it is understanding how, where, and by whom this information is used. When you understand this, you know what platform type is best for your situation. Here are the four general types of platforms to consider. Keep in mind that you can publish pretty much all types of user assistance (file types) to each of these. The differences are; how closely integrated the information is with your system, and how much control you have over access and editing. The four platforms are not listed in any particular order. There’s a fifth publishing type; printing hard copy. For the purposes of this article however, I won’t describe printing.

Learning Management System (LMS)

An LMS is traditionally where we publish learning events such as classes, courses, curricula, certifications, assessments, and documents. LMSs allow significant customization in look and feel, catalogs, categorization, curricula, notifications, and reporting. Here are some of the key characteristics.

  • generally controlled viewing access
  • integrate externally-authored courseware
  • roster management
  • scheduling (ILT, vILT, and eLearning)
  • generate and send custom notifications (email, text)
  • track completions and scores
  • standard and custom reports
  • integrate with your directory service, such as Active Directory, for single sign-on (SSO)
  • AICC, SCORM, Tin Can compatibility
  • both a push and a pull system

Learning Content Management System (LCMS)

An LCMS is similar to an LMS although an LCMS is generally geared more toward hosting documentation (user guides), than classes, courses, and curricula. Companies may use their intranet, SharePoint, Wiki, or other system to host and manage their LCMS.

  • generally controlled viewing access
  • check in, check out
  • scheduled publishing
  • authoring templates
  • integrate with your directory service, such as Active Directory, for single sign-on (SSO)
  • generally a pull system


This could be your company’s public web site or a whole host of Internet platforms such as social sites (facebook, Twitter, etc.), or video hosting sites (Vimeo, youtube, etc.). Companies may publish their more sensitive or proprietary information on a closed/access controlled system (LMS, LCMS), but also publish their more public information to sites that are accessible to the general public, and prospective clients.

  • open viewing access
  • marketing/business development purposes
  • wider audience targeting

Your System or Application

Your user assistance can be integrated and published with, and on the same platform as, your system or application. The authoring of the user assistance may be part of the process to create the system or application, and/or standard third-party authoring tools can be used. For example, your development team uses Visual Studio 2013 to build a system, while also integrating user assistance into the development/build process. In addition, instructional designers use other tools, for example RoboHelp or Camtasia, to create additional user assistance that is also integrated into the build/publishing process.

  • publishing sync’d with releases
  • content on same platform as system
  • context-sensitivity
  • content potentially closest to point of use

Three Words I Always Look for When Editing (need, which, utilize)

Want versus Need imageThere are three words that I search for (and often edit) when reviewing a document. Even before skimming or reading a document, I often search for these words to get a flavor of the quality, tone, grammar, and formality of the writing. If you read, write, listen, or edit, you probably see, hear, or edit these three words quite a bit.

The three dirty words are:

1. Need, Excessive Neediness

Need is probably the most tortured and abused word in the English language. It’s dropped almost everywhere. And dropped inappropriately, I must add. I call it Excessive Neediness. There are two rules that I follow when looking at need.

  1. Only animate objects have needs. Non-living objects cannot possibly have needs.
  2. Political or emotional use. Used as an emotional or pleading-type of appeal.

A poorly crafted email message says that this project needs to be completed by the end of the week. Interesting. Projects have needs. Didn’t know that!

A biased newspaper article may explain that a certain agency of the government needs more of our money in the form of higher taxes in order to…

2. Which Versus That

My experience is that writers and speakers often use which when they should use that as the relative pronoun. In section 5.202 of my Chicago Manual of Style, I find that that is “used restrictively to narrow a category or to identify an item.” “Which is used non-restrictively – not to narrow a class or identify an item – but to add something to an item. “Which should be used restrictively only when it is preceded by a preposition (e.g., the situation in which we find ourselves). Otherwise it is almost always preceded by a comma, a parenthesis, or a dash.” The confusion usually arises when which or that are used as relative pronouns to introduce adjective (or relative) clauses. The rule of thumb, is that which clauses are nonrestrictive (nonessential to the meaning of the sentence) while that clauses are restrictive (essential to the meaning). Note that rules and customs in British English may be different.

I think that writers want to be more formal, or appear to have given their writing more thought. They think that which lends their writing a little more formality.

This article from Get it write online gives a good explanation and a few examples. There are certainly many examples…

3. Utilize Versus Use

Utilize is a fussy non-word in my book. It doesn’t add anything to a sentence that use doesn’t already handle. Instead of utilize use use, or better yet, an even more descriptive and accurate verb or sentence structure.