General user guide documentation

Our goal is for Zulip to have complete, high-quality user-appealing documentation about use Zulip's features and perform certain tasks, such as setting up an organization. This system is designed to make writing and maintaining such documentation highly efficient.

Editing and testing

The user documentation is available under /help/ on any Zulip server; (e.g. https://chat.zulip.org/help/ or http://localhost:9991/help/ in the Zulip development environment). The user documentation is not hosted on ReadTheDocs, since Zulip supports running a server completely disconnected from the Internet, and we'd like the documentation to be available in that environment.

The source for this user documentation is the Markdown files under templates/zerver/help/ in the main Zulip server repository. The file foo.md is automatically rendered by the render_markdown_path function in zerver/templatetags/app_filters.py when the user accesses a URL of the form /help/foo; with special cases for /help/ going to index.md and /help/unknown_article going to missing.md (with a 404 response). Images are usually linked from static/images/help/.

This means that you can contribute to the Zulip user documentation by just adding to or editing the collection of markdown files under templates/zerver/help. If you have the Zulip development environment setup, you simply need to reload your browser on http://localhost:9991/help/foo to see the latest version of foo.md rendered.

Writing documentation

Writing documentation is a different form of writing than most people have experience with.

When you write user-appealing documentation, keep in mind that most users don't care about how the underlying code works; they simply want to know how a feature works or how they can do something.

Think of writing user documentation as writing a recipe; you're trying to direct your readers how to cook a dish while introducing them to the dish itself, yet you shouldn't go into detail about the scientific processes that allow you to cook your dish.

By keeping these thoughts in mind, you'll be able to write better user guide documentation.

Title

The title of your documentation should be a brief summary of your documentation. Your title should be formatted as a heading by prepending your title with a #.

The title of your documentation needs to be included under a fitting section in templates/zerver/help/sidebar.md so users can access it from the user documentation index.

Introduction

By writing a brief introduction of what you will be discussing in your documentation, users will gain a better understanding of your document. For example, if you are writing about a feature, you could describe what the feature allows users to do. Your introduction should be no longer than two paragraphs.

Directions

If you are guiding a user on how to perform a certain task in Zulip, it is best to explain the process through a series of numbered steps. Your documentation's goal is to direct users on how to do something so that they achieve their goals. Thus, steps should be as detailed yet concise as possible.

For example, if you tried to explain copying and pasting text, you could describe it in the following steps:

1. Highlight the text you want to copy.

2. Press CTRL+C to copy the highlighted text.

3. Move your cursor to the location where you want to paste the text.

4. Press CTRL+V to paste the copied text.

You can continue steps with additional notes or instructions by breaking the line and indenting the next line, which is especially useful for including images within a single step.

1. Do something.

    You can also do this.

A general tip for breaking up a process is whenever a user interacts with the Zulip UI (e.g.: click a button, refresh the page), a new step should be created.

Sections

If you are documenting multiple processes in your documentation, such as how to perform a task by using several different features, you should differentiate the processes by dividing them into sections using headings. Like the title, your section headings should give a brief description of the processes you describe.

All subsequent subsections should be appended with an increasing number of #'s to make the headings smaller.

# Title

## Section 1

### Subsection 1

### Subsection 2

## Section 2

### Subsection 1

Always leave a blank line on either side of a section heading.

User interface

When you refer to the features in the Zulip UI, you should bold the feature's name followed by the feature itself (e.g. Settings page, Change password button, Email field). No quotation marks should be used.

Keep in mind that the UI may change — don’t describe it in more detail than is needed. Never identify or refer to a button by its color.

Features

Zulip's Markdown processor allows you to include several special features in your documentation to help improve its readibility:

  • Since raw HTML is supported in Markdown, you can include arbitrary HTML/CSS in your documentation as needed.
  • Code blocks allow you to highlight syntax, similar to Zulip's own markdown.
  • Anchor tags can be used to link to headers in other documents.
  • Images of Zulip UI can be added to documentation.
  • Inline icons used to refer to features in the Zulip UI.
  • You can utilize macros to limit repeated content in the documentation.
  • You can create special highlight warning blocks using tips and warnings.

Images

Images and screenshots should be included in user documentation only if it will help guide the user in how to do something (e.g. if the image will make it much clearer which element on the page the user should interact with). For instance, an image of an element should not be included if the element the user needs to interact with is the only thing on the page, but images can be included to show the end result of an interaction with the UI.

Using too many screenshots creates maintainability problems (we have to update them every time the UI is changed) and also can make the instructions for something simple look long and complicated.

When taking screenshots, the image should never include the whole Zulip browser window in a screenshot; instead, it should only show relevant parts of the app. In addition, the screenshot should always come after the text that describes it, never before.

Images are often formatted as continuations of steps and must be indented on a new line to be formatted this way.

Icons

You can refer to features in the Zulip UI by referencing their names and their FontAwesome (version 4.7.0) text icons within parentheses. The source for the text icons is located in static/third/thirdparty-fonts.css. Note: It is strongly recommended to use the new base class fa instead of the older base class icon-vector when specifying icons. In future we will be removing support for the icons with base class icon-vector.

  • cog () icon — cog (<i class="fa fa-cog"></i>) icon
  • down chevron () icon — down chevron (<i class="fa fa-chevron-down"></i>) icon
  • eye () icon — eye (<i class="fa fa-eye"></i>) icon
  • file () icon — file (<i class="fa fa-file-text-o"></i>) icon
  • filled star () icon — filled star (<i class="fa fa-star"></i>) icon
  • formatting () icon — formatting (<i class="fa fa-font"></i>) icon
  • menu () icon — menu (<i class="fa fa-bars"></i>) icon
  • overflow ( ) icon — overflow ( <i class="fa fa-ellipsis-v"></i> ) icon
  • paperclip () icon — paperclip (<i class="fa fa-paperclip"></i>) icon
  • pencil () icon — pencil (<i class="fa fa-pencil"></i>) icon
  • pencil and paper () icon — pencil and paper (<i class="fa fa-pencil-square-o"></i>) icon
  • plus () icon — plus (<i class="fa fa-plus"></i>) icon
  • smiley face () icon — smiley face (<i class="fa fa-smile-o"></i>) icon
  • star () icon — star (<i class="fa fa-star-o"></i>) icon
  • trash () icon — trash (<i class="fa fa-trash-o"></i>) icon
  • x () icon — x (<i class="fa fa-times"></i>) icon

Macros

Macros are elements in the format of {!macro.md!} that insert common phrases and steps at the location of the macros. Macros help eliminate repeated content in our documentation.

The source for macros is the Markdown files under templates/zerver/help/include in the main Zulip server repository. If you find multiple instances of particular content in the documentation, you can always create a new macro by adding a new file to that folder.

Organization settings {!admin.md!} macro

  • About: Links to the Organization settings documentation. Usually preceded by the Go to the macro and a link to a particular section on the Organization settings page.

  • Contents:

    tab of the [Organization settings](/help/edit-administrator-settings) page.
    
  • Example usage and rendering:

    {!go-to-the.md!} [Organization settings](/#organization/organization-settings)
    {!admin.md!}
    
    1. Go to the [Organization settings](/#organization/organization-settings) tab of the
    [Organization](/help/edit-administrator-settings) page.
    

Administrator only feature {!admin-only.md!} macro

  • About: Creates a note the feature discussed in the documentation is only available to organization administrators. It should be placed immediately after the title.

  • Contents:

    !!! warn ""
        **Note:** This feature can only be controlled by organization administrators.
    
  • Example usage and rendering:

    {!admin-only.md!}
    
    {!follow-steps.md!} change who can join your stream by changing the stream's
    accessibility.
    
    !!! warn ""
        **Note:** This feature can only be controlled by organization administrators.
    
    Follow the following steps to change who can join your stream by
    changing the stream's accessibility.
    

All streams {!all-streams.md!} macro

  • About: Explains how to view all streams in the organization on the Streams page. Usually formatted as a tip and preceded by the Streams macro and the Filter streams macro.

  • Contents:

        If you wish to see streams that you aren't subscribed to, click on the
            **All streams** tab; the tab will turn gray upon doing so.
    
  • Example usage and rendering:

    {!subscriptions.md!}
    {!filter-streams.md!}
        !!! tip ""
        {!all-streams.md!}
    
    1. [Find the relevant stream](/help/browse-and-join-streams#browse-streams) on the
    [Streams](/#streams) page. You can search for specific streams by entering the
    name of the stream in the **Filter streams** input.
        !!! tip ""
            If you wish to see streams that you aren't subscribed to, click on the
            **All streams** tab; the tab will turn gray upon doing so.
    

Down chevron {!down-chevron.md!} macro

  • About: Instructs readers to click on the down chevron () icon to reveal an actions dropdown; usually preceded by an command, such as the Message actions macro.

  • Contents:

    down chevron (<i class="fa fa-chevron-down"></i>) icon to reveal an actions dropdown.
    
  • Example usage and rendering:

    {!message-actions.md!}
    {!down-chevron.md!}
    
    1. Hover over a message to replace the message's timestamp with its message
    actions, represented by three icons. From the icons that appear, select the
    down chevron (<i class="fa fa-chevron-down"></i>) icon to reveal an actions dropdown.
    

Go to the {!go-to-the.md} macro

  • About: Usually precedes the Settings macro or the Organization settings macro. Transforms following content into a step.

  • Contents:

    1. Go to the
    
  • Example usage and rendering:

    {!go-to-the.md!} [Notifications](/#settings/notifications)
    {!settings.md!}
    
    1. Go to the [Notifications](/#settings/notifications) tab on the
    [Settings](/help/edit-settings) page.
    

Filter streams {!filter-streams.md!} macro

  • About: Explains how to search for specific streams in the Streams page using the Filter streams input. Usually preceded by the Streams macro.

  • Contents:

    You can search for specific streams by entering the name of the stream in
    the **Filter streams** input.
    
  • Example usage and rendering:

    {!subscriptions.md!}
    {!filter-streams.md!}
    
    1. [Find the relevant stream](/help/browse-and-join-streams#browse-streams) on the
    [Streams](/#streams) page. You can search for specific streams by entering the
    name of the stream in the **Filter streams** input.
    

Follow steps {!follow-steps.md!} macro

  • About: Prepends phrases with instructions to follow the following steps.

  • Contents:

    Follow the following steps to
    
  • Example usage and rendering:

    {!follow-steps.md!}  change your mobile notification settings.
    
    Follow the following steps to change your mobile notification
    settings.
    

Message actions {!message-actions.md!} macro

  • About: Explains how to view the actions of message. Usually followed by an instruction to click a specific icon, such as the Down chevron macro.

  • Contents:

    1. Hover over a message to replace the message's timestamp with its message
    actions, represented by three icons. From the icons that appear, select the
    
  • Example usage and rendering:

    {!message-actions.md!}
    {!down-chevron.md!}
    
    1. Hover over a message to replace the message's timestamp with its message
    actions, represented by three icons. From the icons that appear, select the
    down chevron (<i class="fa fa-chevron-down"></i>) icon to reveal an actions dropdown.
    

Save changes {!save-changes.md!} macro

  • About: Used in documentation that requests users to save their changes by pressing the Save changes button. Usually followed by a phrase describing the settings they modified.

  • Contents:

    1. Click on the **Save changes** button to save any changes you made to
    your
    
  • Example usage and rendering:

    {!save-changes.md!} notification settings.
    
    1. Click on the **Save changes** button to save any changes you made to
    your notification settings.
    

Settings {!settings.md!} macro

  • About: Links to the Edit Settings documentation. Usually preceded by the Go to the macro and a link to a particular section on the Settings page.

  • Contents:

    tab on the [Settings](/help/edit-settings) page.
    
  • Example usage and rendering:

    {!go-to-the.md!} [Notifications](/#settings/notifications)
    {!settings.md!}
    
    1. Go to the [Notifications](/#settings/notifications) tab on the
    [Settings](/help/edit-settings) page.
    

Stream actions {!stream-actions.md!} macro

  • About: Explains how to view the actions of stream. Usually followed by the an instruction and the Down chevron macro.

  • Contents:

    1. On the left sidebar in the **Streams** section, hover over a stream to reveal
    a down chevron (<i class="fa fa-chevron-down"></i>) icon to the right of
    the stream name.
    
  • Example usage and rendering:

    {!stream-actions.md!}
    
    1. Click on the {!down-chevron.md!}
    
    1. On the left sidebar in the **Streams** section, hover over a stream to reveal
    a down chevron (<i class="fa fa-chevron-down"></i>) icon to the right of
    the stream name.
    
    2. Click on the down chevron (<i class="fa fa-chevron-down"></i>)
    icon to reveal an actions dropdown.
    

Stream settings {!stream-settings.md!} macro

  • About: Notifies readers about the changes in the Streams page when a stream is selected; usually followed by an instruction.

  • Contents:

    the right side of the [Streams](/#streams) page, labeled
    **Stream settings**, will now display the selected stream's settings.
    
  • Example usage and rendering:

    1. Click on the stream you want to edit; {!stream-settings.md!}
    
    1. Click on the stream you want to edit; the right side of the
    [Streams](/#streams) page, labeled **Stream settings**, will
    now display the selected stream's settings.
    

Stream settings scroll {!stream-settings.md!} macro

  • About: Instructs readers to scroll down to a particular section on the Streams page after making sure their cursors are hovering above the Streams Settings section.

  • Contents:

    1. After making sure that your cursor is hovering over the **Streams Settings**
    section, scroll down to the
    
  • Example usage and rendering:

    {!stream-settings-scroll.md!} **Stream membership** section. This section
    shows the usernames and emails of all users that are currently subscribed to the
    selected stream.
    
    1. After making sure that your cursor is hovering over the **Streams Settings**
    section, scroll down to the **Stream membership** section. This section
    shows the usernames and emails of all users that are currently subscribed to the
    selected stream.
    

Streams {!subscriptions.md!} macro

  • About: Used in documentation that direct users to the Streams page. Often followed by the Filter streams macro.

  • Contents:

    1. [Find the relevant stream](/help/browse-and-join-streams#browse-streams) on
    the [Streams](/#streams) page.
    
  • Example usage and rendering:

    {!subscriptions.md!}
    {!filter-streams.md!}
    
    1. [Find the relevant stream](/help/browse-and-join-streams#browse-streams) on the
    [Streams](/#streams) page. You can search for specific streams by entering the
    name of the stream in the **Filter streams** input.
    

Tips and warnings

A tip is any suggestion for the user that is not part of the main set of instructions. For instance, it may address a common problem users may encounter while following the instructions, or point to an option for power users.

!!! tip ""
    If you've forgotten your password, see the
    [Change your password](/help/change-your-password) page for
    instructions on how to reset it.

A warning is a note on what happens when there is some kind of problem. Tips are more common than warnings.

!!! warn ""
    **Note:** If you attempt to input a nonexistent stream name, an error
    message will appear.

All tips/warnings should appear inside tip/warning blocks. There should be only one tip/warning inside each block.They usually be formatted as a continuation of a numbered step.

Documentation template

Here is a template for writing user documentation that follows the guidelines listed in this document. It demonstrates the proper formatting of several features discussed above.

You can always look at previously-written documentation in the templates/zerver/help folder as a reference for writing your documentation.

# Title of documentation

This paragraph briefly summarizes the documentation. Please remember to
replace this paragraph with an appropriate description of the documentation.

## Writing documentation as a series of steps

1. This is the first step of the documentation.

    ![First step](/static/images/help/image1.png)

2. This is the second step of the documentation.

    Here's an additional note about the second step. Click on the star (<i
    class="fa fa-star-half-o"></i>) icon to learn more about it.

3. This is the third step of the documentation.

    !!! tip ""
        You can always add more steps to your documentation!

## Writing documentation to introduce a feature

If necessary, you can add another section to your documentation. Sections
can be used to differentiate different methods of performing a task or
describing a related task.

![Feature](/static/images/help/feature.png)

You can also conclude your documentation with some final notes.

!!! warn ""
    **Note:** This is only a documentation template; you can always deviate
    **from this template to suit your documentation needs.