General User Guide Documentation

Our goal is for Zulip to have complete, high-quality user-appealing 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. 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 is automatically rendered by the render_markdown_path function in zerver/templatetags/ when the user accesses a URL of the form /help/foo; with special cases for /help/ going to and /help/unknown_article going to (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 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.


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/ so users can access it from the user documentation index.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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 are migrating to the modern font awesome 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
  • video-camera () icon — video-camera (<i class="fa fa-video-camera"></i>) icon
  • x () icon — x (<i class="fa fa-times"></i>) icon


Macros are elements in the format of {!!} 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 {!!} macro

Notes that the feature is only available to organization administrators.

Message actions {!!} macro

First step to navigating to the on-hover message actions.

Message actions menu {!!} macro

Navigate to the message actions menu.

Save changes {!!} macro

Save changes after modifying organization settings.

Stream actions {!!} macro

Navigate to the stream actions menu from the left sidebar.

Start composing {!!} macro

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.

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.


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.