User documentation

Our goal is for Zulip to have complete, high-quality documentation about Zulip’s features and how to perform certain tasks, such as setting up an organization.

There are two types of documents: articles about specific features, and a handful of longer guides.

The feature articles serve a few different purposes:

  • Feature discovery, for someone browsing the /help page, and looking at the set of titles.
  • Public documentation of our featureset, for someone googling “can zulip do ..”
  • Canned responses to support questions; if someone emails a zulip admin asking “how do I change my name”, they can reply with a link to the doc.
  • Feature explanations for new Zulip users and admins, especially for organization settings.

This system is designed to make writing and maintaining such documentation highly efficient. We link to the docs extensively from the landing pages and in-product, so it’s important to keep the docs up to date.

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.

Tips for adding a new article:

  • Find an existing article in the same section of the help documentation, and copy the format, wording, style, etc as closely as you can.
  • Fewer words is better than more. Many Zulip users have English as a second language.
  • Try to put yourself in the shoes of a new Zulip user. What would you want to know?
  • The goal of user-facing documentation is not to be comprehensive. The goal is to give the right bits of information for the intended audience.

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 a part of a numbered step and must be indented four spaces to be formatted correctly.

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. Note: We have completed migrating away from older base class icon-vector and have dropped support for it. We now only support icons from FontAwesome (version 4.7.0) which make use of fa as a base class.

  • 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
  • video-camera () icon — video-camera (<i class="fa fa-video-camera"></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.

  • Administrator only feature {!admin-only.md!}: Notes that the feature is only available to organization administrators.
  • Message actions {!message-actions.md!}: First step to navigating to the on-hover message actions.
  • Message actions menu {!message-actions-menu.md!}: Navigate to the message actions menu.
  • Save changes {!save-changes.md!}: Save changes after modifying organization settings.
  • Stream actions {!stream-actions.md!}: Navigate to the stream actions menu from the left sidebar.
  • Start composing {!start-composing.md!}: Open the compose box.

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.