by Beth Gerber


Like the train in the classic children’s story, RoboHelp by Adobe Systems seems to have chugged its way to the top.  It may be a well known product only in exclusive circles, but it’s a powerful one and certainly improves with each release.

What started out as a basic html help authoring tool has evolved into an engine of sorts.  This engine has been calibrated to accept all types of fuel to get it going including– native help authoring, importing or linking of Word or FrameMaker documents, converted pdf documents, media files, etc.  Utilizing mapping styles and authoring tools, the author is able to create rich content for its passenger (the end user) on the train to knowledge.

We love the fact that RoboHelp helps us garner our passengers’ feedback and comments through the collaborative review feature, which ensures that our help systems are constantly improved and our engine is running smoothly.  Collaborative review, which was introduced in version 9, has been much improved in version 10 based on the fact that Adobe incorporated its customers’ feedback on this unique tool.

Most importantly, RoboHelp is keeping up with the times, and continuing to improve its machinery as evidenced by the investment in Multiscreen HTML5, Kindle, EPUB and SharePoint outputs.  Updates in RoboHelp 10 are focused primarily on output options to help ensure that this train runs on schedule!

Choo Choo for Some Small Changes that have Big Results!

There aren’t an overwhelming number of changes in the authoring environment in this release, but the following tweaks to the RoboHelp machinery go a long way in assisting the help author:

Help with linking and importing Word and FrameMaker documents

Previous versions of RoboHelp have introduced some of these new capabilities – such as linking of Word and FrameMaker documents – and this version has made some nice enhancements to linking and importing. For example, version 10 provides an option to automap styles for linked documents to the corresponding CSS in RoboHelp.  Pagination and topic naming of imported or linked content has also been enhanced – which reduces the help author’s work and improves the end user’s experience.

Just saved some time here….

If you’re copying and pasting content directly from other sources – some simple additions such as Edit > Clear Formatting saves a lot of time when you don’t want to bring over formatting from other documents and have previously used Notepad to accomplish this task.

Improvements to existing parts

Being able to create snippets with .css and apply CBT’s to external search terms are other much needed improvements.  Snippets with style sheets will help authors save time and improve the output.  Being able to apply build tags to external search terms will help users get better search results.

As a leading consulting firm in the development of policy and procedure for the financial services industry, we are pleased to see that glossary terms can now be output as popups or tooltips, something we’ve had to create manually in addition to the glossary tab and hotspots.  The new global search and replace function is also a big plus in this version.  In future releases it would be nice to be to lead through the design window when determining whether you wanted to replace terms instead of viewing the HTML.  But simply having a more robust utility for this important function is a big plus for this engine!

Along with global search and replace, we must mention another great improvement. User defined variables (UDVs) can now be applied to topic titles.  Talk about fuel efficiency!  You can use product names or other labels in your titles and eliminate work if these variables change.

Can we have Your Feedback Please?

Ensuring that all passengers are happy and that their comments and needs have been addressed is an important part of any journey.  This brings us to some critical enhancements that have been made to the content review feature in RoboHelp 10.

When ready to send a document to review, the user selects Review > Create PDF for Review.

The new window allows the author to do some great new things like:

  • Show files from the Project Manager or TOC
  • Select topics and files based on a status or date modified
  • Define CBTs
  • Include expanding and drop down text
  • Automatically update the status for all topics sent for review and/or when reviewed

These improvements make the document being edited more accurate and also enable the author to manage and track topics sent for review.  With large help files, content review can be a daunting task and these features make life easier.

Seeing is Believing

Along with providing a PDF for review, it’s important to send your internal or external client an output of what the content will look like online.  Sometimes sending a webhelp folder can be troublesome and a .chm file doesn’t look like the webhelp version so it’s also not a good option.  Version 10 comes with a handy new script called Webhelp to CHM Converter. With this script, Tools > Scripts>Webhelp to CHM Converter, you can generate a single file that contains your webhelp skin.  Now your reviewer not only has a better pdf to incorporate comments, but they can view your content online as well.

I Think I Can, I Think I Can…..I did (enable publishing to multiple devices, that is)

The biggest change in RoboHelp 10 that has helped this engine get into the station before the other trains is its ability to generate multiple outputs for various screen sizes and devices.  It’s now possible through the Multiscreen HTML5 Single Source Layout to create layouts for multiple devices through one content source.   Here’s how easy it is:

  1. From the SSL pod, click on create new layout   and select the output type from the New Layout Window. Press OK.
  2. When the Multiscreen HTML5 Settings window appears, select your settings for each device under Screen Profiles.  RoboHelp comes with predefined layouts or you can create your own.
  3. Select Save and Generate and preview your output on all selected devices by going to your project’s SSL folder.  Here’s a sample iPad output:

And here’s the same project output to an iPhone:

It’s just as easy to generate ebooks either in an EPUB3 or Kindle Book format.  Note:  You can still generate by selecting EPUB2 File> Generate EPUB 2.0.1 Output.

  1. From the SSL pod, click on create new layout   and select the output type from the New Layout Window. Press OK.
  2. When the eBook Settings window appears, select your settings for either EPUB3, Kindle or both. Be sure to check the Options to Validate the EPUB 3 Output and/or Show KindleGen Logs.  If you don’t have the files, RoboHelp provides you with the link to download them from the internet.
  3. Select Content and identify your TOC, Index and Glossary, as well as any CBTs and Variable Sets.  You can create a cascading style sheet specifically for your eBook output or select one of the existing styles.
  4. Select Meta Information and identify the author, publisher, title, rights and description. You can select an image for the cover, if desired.
  5. Last, select Optimization Settings and deselect any of the following.  These settings are preselected because they optimize the eBook output.
  6. Click on Save and Generate and preview your output.

Tailoring the Output to the Media through Styles

You can also customize your style sheets based on the device to which you will be publishing.  In this release, RoboHelp has updated the styles window to allow you to create and segregate style sheets based on media.  This allows you to adjust your styles to be appropriate for the screen size of the device.  When you generate your output, you can select the appropriate .css in your settings.

Publishing to SharePoint

And finally, as our engine pulls into the station, the considerations to SharePoint publishing are certainly worth mentioning.  Within the MultiScreen HTML5 SSL, the author has selections for publishing to SharePoint, even in native .aspx format.  The following selection allows you to customize your settings and publish to SharePoint:

You can also use SharePoint as a content repository for version controlling your RoboHelp project.


Destination Reached – Here’s the Ticket

To sum it up, Adobe has really focused on three basic engineering strategies to further improve RoboHelp and continue to ensure its future viability:

  1.  Input: (enhancements to native authoring, linking and importing documents)
  2. Review: (improvement of tools used to facilitate reviewer content and incorporate feedback)
  3. Output: ( simplified ways to publish to SharePoint, desktop, mobile, tablet, eBook and other media)

We are pleased to see this product, which is used in so many industries for so many purposes, continue to meet new technology demands and retain its flexibility and power.  This is the little engine that could…..and did surpass the competition.

Beth Gerber

Beth Gerber is co-owner and President of Lightext, Inc., a firm that specializes in quality consulting in the areas of policy and procedure development, curriculum design and training delivery. Beth began her career as a Vice President for Home Savings of America in California and was responsible for training, procedures and loan servicing operational departments. In 1994, Beth took her expertise and opened a consulting company that models her commitment to high standards in the writing and training profession.

Lightext today has a consulting staff of over 25 highly skilled professionals. They work with clients to develop and deliver customized training and policy and procedure solutions. Several of these companies outsource their entire training and procedure departments to Lightext for ongoing support and maintenance.
Lightext prides itself in its ability to ascertain a client’s total learning needs and provide a comprehensive solution that maximizes the use of resources, thus reducing cost and redundancy.

In 2010, the consulting business expanded through the opening of the Lightext Training Center, authorized by Adobe Systems. The training center offers courses for Learning Professionals in the writing and training world, includingPolicy and Procedure Development, Curriculum Design and Presentation Skills as well as Adobe product training.
Beth has a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of the Pacific and is a member of the Society for Technical Communication. Through Lightext she and co-owner, Pam Harrison, have developed a strong client list, including First Republic Bank, City National Bank, Union Bank, Far East National Bank, Grandpoint Bank, Prospect Mortgage, Korn/Ferry International, One West Bank, PennyMac Mortgage Corporation, Wells Fargo, Mitsubishi Motors Credit, Capital Source Bank, Oak Tree Capital Management, Loan Depot, and PMC Bancorp, to name a few.