User help guide

I wrote a user help guide.

After studying DITA principles, I decided to test my knowledge by creating a user help guide where none currently exists.

I created my guide using a free trial of ClickHelp, which I chose since it is browser-based, requiring no additional software or downloads. Go to ClickHelp site

This platform is quite basic, but it suited my purposes since I wanted to be able to practice user guide documentation while demonstrating my ability to write clearly and concisely.

I created documentation for InTouch Language Inc, the phone-based English company I’m currently working with part-time. Their existing training for teachers exists in discrete documents scattered across emails, videos and various cloud drives. Not to mention, it’s not written by native English speakers.

Exhibit A: This PDF

My final version is, in fact, a draft, because I have created this independent of a team or subject matter expert. If this were more than a practice exercise, creating and maintaining user guides would be an iterative process.

Regardless, working on this project made me happy. I’d love to do more work like this in the future, especially with different platforms.

The guide exists in Word doc format and HTML. Here are some screenshots from the HTML version, which I’ve hosted on Github: See it on Github

Child pages of sub-topics have breadcrumb navigation at the bottom of the page.
Child pages of sub-topics (“Comments & Evaluations”) have breadcrumb navigation at the bottom of the page.
Each sub-topic page contains a list of all the other sub-topics within that section.
Each sub-topic page (“Logging In”) contains a list of all the other sub-topics within that section (“Using the Learning Management System”).
Each topic contains a table of contents that lists all the sub-topics.
Each topic (“Using the Learning Management System”) contains a table of contents that lists all the sub-topics.
Each sub-topic contains a "mini" table of contents.
Each sub-topic (“Monthly Reports”) contains a “mini” table of contents.
On this "Discussion Topics" page, the question categories expand and collapse using accordions.
On this “Discussion Topics” page, the question categories expand and collapse.

Go to the full user help guide

Tutoring

Varsity Tutors

In March 2018 I started tutoring with Varsity Tutors as an independent contractor. I was approved to tutor all levels of English reading and writing as well as test prep. See my profile on the Varsity Tutors site

My subjects included:

  • ACT: English, Reading, Science, Writing
  • PSAT: Critical Reading, Writing Skills
  • SAT: Reading, Writing and Language
  • AP English Language and Composition
  • AP English Literature and Composition
  • AP Psychology (and other social sciences)
  • American Literature (College & High School)
  • English (College & High School)
  • College Application Essays

I’d been trained by the Vanderbilt Writing Studio as a writing tutor, but I’d never tutored test prep before joining Varsity Tutors. My first few sessions of ACT English tutoring were surely cringe-worthy.

But I really enjoyed tutoring. Soon, I had several clients with standing appointments. By May, at the height of end-of-year standardised tests, I was tutoring up to 6 hours a day.

A graph of my hours and sessions plotted against time from 25 March to 27 June 2018.

My approach

In my approach to tutoring, I generally relied on the study guides provided by Varsity Tutors, but I found so many mistakes in the SAT and ACT study guides that I started compiling the errata and emailing it to VT. So the process had a few kinks at the beginning.

But as I became increasingly familiar with the material, I knew exactly which sample passages to use during sessions to tackle various skill or knowledge deficits.

To help students brush up on their writing conventions, I selected errors I’d seen in real life. First, I would show the students some examples of various mistakes and explain them:

Sentence fragment
The red highlight is a fragment sentence.

Then, I would offer some examples that the students could fix on their own:

Fixit 4
Pronoun-antecedent errors
Fixit 2
“Affect,” not “effect”

I use a variety of resources to support my tutoring, including Paul Brians’ Common Errors in English Usage, a staple on my bookshelf for many years and now free and searchable online. Explore Common Errors

I like gauging students’ level by asking them to explain the difference between different words and usages; it’s both educational for them and helpful to me.

Case study

One challenge in particular was helping to prepare a student for a specialised reading comprehension exam in the state of Missouri. Let’s call him Zach. Passing the exam was critical for Zach, yet few test-prep materials were available online.

His mom sent me a book in the mail with some sample passages that Zach had already worked through. So based on the topics covered in the exam, I cobbled together relevant passages from ACT, SAT, and even GRE study guides. I supplemented our sessions with selected poems from ReadWorks.org, a great free resource for educators. Go to ReadWorks

Outcomes

My students generally met their goals for tutoring. Here is some of the positive feedback I’ve received:

Screen Shot 2018-07-06 at 8.45.35 PM

“Very helpful introduction for the SAT!! Thank you very much. I look forward to working with you again.”

“Alisha is a spectacular tutor. My daughter adores her and wishes she could be her actual teacher. We are so thrilled to have found such a warm, kind, and enthusiastic tutor that makes a chore seem like a pleasure!”

“[Student] absolutely loves Alisha! Alisha is a fabulous tutor! Thanks so much for being so positive, warm and helpful!”

“Amazing!!! She knows everything backwards and forwards!!”

“She is a great tutor! [Student] loves her and she has seen such amazing results — highly recommend.”

Getting feedback like this is part of what made this job rewarding. I stayed active on the platform until I moved to New Zealand, when I then phased out support for my existing clients.