Instruction Manual for Drupal Content Management System

Wrote Layperson’s User Guide for Complex CMS

In 2011, as a subcontractor for 5D Spectrum, I substantially rewrote the User Guide for the Content Management System (CMS) used as an online catalog for Eastern Costume Company, in North Hollywood, California.

Eastern Costume Company has a uniquely extensive, yet wonderfully well-organized inventory: They are a full-service costume house and wardrobe supply company specializing in military, police, and civilian wardrobe ranging from the 1920s to present day.

The CMS had to keep the photos and text descriptions of all the items not only properly formatted but also easily discoverable by EC’s clients, who had varying degrees of access granted by EC to various pages of the site.

In addition, the CMS had to provide EC administrators the means to readily update all the content and access privileges.

The solution decided upon by EC and the Web contractor was a site built upon the Drupal content management platform — arguably the most powerful CMS generally available, yet one with a notoriously “steep learning curve.”

Known to the contractor as one not only versed in Drupal but also accomplished in writing and editing, I was tasked with making the User Guide more user-friendly — so that even non-programmers, such as the EC administrators, could readily work with the CMS complexity “behind the scenes” of the Web site.

I am happy to report that I accomplished that goal, to the satisfaction of the EC administrators and the contractor.

There were three key factors in creating this guide, as there are in making most technical instructions as user-friendly as possible:

  • Define jargon whenever it is first used within each section of the instructions (such as a section for saving a new item, updating an existing item, or deleting an existing item or for adding or deleting a Web site user).
  • Repeat step-by-step instructions wherever they are referenced (rather than writing, say, “Refer back to Section 17b”).
  • Overall, and most importantly, respect your readers’ intelligence: Although they may not know specific terms or techniques before you define or describe them, the readers will understand and learn if you write clearly and logically.

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