Anatomy of a Knowledge Base article | How to contribute

Anatomy of a Knowledge Base article

This is the introduction where I give you some context for this article and a brief overview of what's in it. By doing this you can quickly determine if this is the right article for you.

In this case, you want to learn how to write help articles for Mozilla Support. So in this article I'll show you examples of the most common writing techniques and wiki markup that we use. You can use both the article and its wiki source as a guide when you write.

In general, we have two basic kinds of articles with two kinds of introductions:

  • Tutorial or how-to article intros: A brief summary of the feature or task and what things can be learned (example).
  • Troubleshooting article intros: A brief summary of the symptoms and the solution (example).

How to structure an article

The general idea here is to try to build skills from simple to complex while trying to keep the information needed by most people near the top. So a simple, common solution would usually come before a complex or edge-case solution.

For example, in this Tab Groups article we start with why you should use the feature, then move on to how to make a group and end with more complicated tasks like searching and organizing.

Write descriptive section headings so readers can scan quickly

By naming the section after the task or solution it allows people to quickly browse the article or scan the table of contents to see the scope of the article. In some cases this may be enough information for some users and they wouldn't even need to read the rest of the article.

Create step-by-step instructions

There's nothing more frustrating than finally finding the instructions you need and then getting stranded while trying to follow them because the writer assumed you knew something you didn't. This is why we break our instructions out into complete, numbered steps. If you have to click "OK" at some point we even make that a step.

Here's an example from the How to set the home page article:

  1. Open up the website you want to be your home page.
  2. Click on the icon to the left of the web address, drag it to the Home button and then let go.
  3. Click Yes to set this as your home page.

Create instructions for different operating systems or versions of Firefox

Often Firefox instructions are different for different operating systems. We have special wiki markup that lets us show Windows instructions to Windows users and Mac instructions to Mac users. If you switch the operating system at the top of this article the steps below will change.

Tip: Look at the wiki source to see how it's done (please don't actually change the article though).

  1. At the top of the Firefox window, click on the Firefox button (Tools menu in Windows XP) and then click Options.
  2. Select the General panel.
  3. In the Startup box, click Restore to Default.
    Home page Win3
  4. Click OK to close the Options window.

  1. On the menu bar, click on the Firefox menu and select Preferences...
  2. Select the General panel.
  3. In the Startup box, click Restore to Default.
    Home page Mac3
  4. Close the Preferences window.

  1. At the top of the Firefox window, click on the Edit menu and select Preferences.
  2. Select the General panel.
  3. In the Startup box, click Restore to Default.
    Home page Lin3
  4. Click Close to close the Preferences window.

Use templates in your step-by-step instructions

There are a lot of common steps in Firefox articles. For these we create "templates" so that we don't have to write (and translate) them over and over again. Usually templates have instructions for all operating systems in them which makes writing out steps even easier. Here are the same steps as shown above but written using templates.

Tip: Be sure to look at the wiki source to see how it's done (please don't edit anything though).
  1. At the top of the Firefox window, click on the Firefox button and then select OptionsAt the top of the Firefox window, click on the Tools menu and then select OptionsOn the menu bar, click on the Firefox menu and select Preferences...At the top of the Firefox window, click on the Edit menu and select Preferences

    Click the menu button New Fx Menu and choose OptionsPreferences

  2. Select the General panel.
  3. In the Startup box, click Restore to Default.
    Home page Win3 Home page Mac3 Home page Lin3
  4. Click OK to close the Options windowClick Close to close the Preferences windowClose the Preferences window

Note: This is a list of all of our templates. And you can learn more about using {for} markup in this article.
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