Developing Specifications

Specifications for online help will assist in communicating the help design to all project team members. They are also a guide for the writers during help development. Specifications are included in the help plan for an online help system and are written as a checklist to help team members and clients develop a product.

High-Level Specifications

High-level specifications should be developed during the planning stage of the project, and should include decisions on these questions:
  • How will the online help coordinate with other user documents?
  • What type of help will best fit the application?
  • How will the help be connected to the application?
  • What media types are required?
  • What tools are needed?
  • What information types and levels are required?
  • What topic types are required?
  • How will the help be presented?

Detailed Specifications

Detailed specifications should be developed after high-level specifications and should include more in depth information, such as:
  • Related documents
  • Writing conventions
  • Terminology
  • Design and layout
  • Help navigation scheme
  • Content of topic types
  • Project-specific style guide

Design and Layout

Your project style guide will need to cover such issues as:
  • Default typefaces and type sizes
  • When to use bold or italic
  • When to use colored text, backgrounds, or highlighting
  • Paragraph formatting
  • Guidelines for numbered, bulleted, and definition lists
  • When to use or avoid tables
  • Table formatting
  • When to use graphics, and guidelines for size, colors, limited palette, and other attributes
  • Whether to use screen captures; if so, what resolution and colors to use
  • When to use layout devices such as frames, non-scrolling regions or navigation buttons
  • Guidelines for graphics and icon usage


Hackos, JoAnn T., Dawn M. Stevens. Standards for Online Communication: Publishing Information for The Internet / World Wide Web
Help Systems / Corporate Intranets. Wiley. New York, 1997. Print.
Weber, Jean Hollis, Is the Help Helpful?, Chapter 3: Developing Specifications (pp. 35-59). Hentzenwerke Publishing: Whitefish Bay WI, 2004


Original Author: Wendy Anderson
Contributors: Inez Funchess, Larita Clow
Editors: Tammy Fitzpatrick, Sandra Ramirez