Step 1 About Help Files 9
Organization. All those idea files and other components (called source files)
come together in a Help project. Your Help-authoring tool creates one file that
contains the information about the location of your topics, images, and other
files. Help project files also contain the settings that affect how your Help
system looks and acts.
Help compiler. The Help compiler isn't actually part of the final Help file,
but you need it to create one. The compiler takes all the source files and
other components of your project and creates one Help system file that you
distribute to end-users. The compiler reads information in the project to
determine what the Help system contains and how it looks and functions.
Help viewer. Users work with the Help system from a Help viewer.
Sometimes called a Help engine, the viewer opens and displays the Help
system. You work with different viewers, depending upon the Help format.
The most basic unit of a Help system is its topics. When users view a Help system,
their destination is a Help topic. Topics communicate the information or provide the
assistance users are looking for. As a Help author, your job is to decide which topics
meet your users needs and then organize them by "grouping” together like groups
(or related sets) of topics. The grouping relationship can be based on many types of
organization – frequency of tasks, related subject matter, job functions, and so on.
However, the way you chunk topics affects not only topic organization, but also it
often affects the way topics are linked.
You can design the styles for your topics based upon the purpose of the topic. Here
are some common types of topics:
Context-sensitive. These topics allow you to provide additional assistance
to users inside a software application. Users can click a Help button or
select a menu command, and the application brings up a topic specific to
where the user is and what the user is trying to do. There's even a special
kind of context-sensitive Help called What'sThis? Help. It provides
information about a specific item at a dialog or window such as a button
option or checkbox setting.
Procedures. Sometimes known as task topics, these provide step-by-step
instructions for performing tasks.
Overviews. Overview topics provide explanations to Help users
understand new ideas and concepts. They usually begin with the familiar,
and then lead the user into information they don't know, explaining terms
and providing examples.
Definitions. These topics usually define unfamiliar terms, but they can also
define industry terms or jargon used throughout the Help system. They are
often called Popup topics, because they usually appear in a small window
that "pops up” when accessed.
Reference. Reference topics provide non-procedural information or
explanations. They often include lists of commands, shortcuts, values,
parameters, or other information the user needs.
Your Help system can contain as many topics and as many topic types as
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Help topics are connected by hypertext links, commonly referred to simply as links.
Links organize topics into groups and allow users to move around the Help system
and display topics. You can use many different linking strategies to creatively
organize and connect your topics. One of the benefits of a Help topic is that you can
"reuse” the topic over and over again without copying it, simply create a link
wherever you want the topic to be accessible.
Whenever a user selects a topic, from a link or from the table of contents or index,
the topic displays in a window. You can add and customize the Help windows in
your Help system to best suit your topic design needs.
Images and Multimedia
Images and multimedia communicate ideas – sometimes better than text. By adding
pictures, sound, video, and animation to your topics, you can add interest and flair to
your Help system.
You can include screen shots, icons, scanned photographs, background pictures (also
called watermarks), logos, and more in your Help system to give it interest and color.
You can even create clickable images – images that are actually links to other topics
or to Web sites on the Internet or intranet.
Keep in mind that each Help format supports different image formats, but there are
many image tools available to Help you create or convert images into the format you
need. (Most Help authoring tools contain image tools for that reason.)
It's fun and easy to add sound, video, and animation to your Help systems. Some
users aren't satisfied with just text and regular images – they want the next
dimension. Multimedia files can be used to communicate concepts in a more
Windows are the "containers” that display topics in the compiled Help system. You
can control and customize the way your Help system's windows look and act:
Color/images. You can add interest to your Help system by choosing
background colors for your Help windows or by using images as window
backgrounds (like watermarks, images that appear "beneath” the text).
Size and location. You can quickly adjust the size of a window or the
location in which it appears on the screen. For example, you can make Help
windows overlap and position them in a specific corner.
Title. Each Help window can contain a title or caption that appears in the
window's title bar. You probably want the main window in your Help
system to have the title describing the product or subject. For example, if
you were creating an employee handbook for the ABC Company, you might
title the main window something like, "ABC Employee Handbook."
Step 1 About Help Files 11
Buttons. Buttons on Help windows usually control the actions users can do
from the window. They also control the way users move around through
topics. For example, the Print button allows users to print the current topic.
Links are the way users navigate throughout the topics in your Help system. Links
connect topics and make them accessible. Links also group topics, so users can see
the relationships between them.
Types of links
There are many different types of links that you can create, but the following are the
Jumps. These are the most common and most familiar type of link. They are called
jumps because when the user clicks one, the Help system "jumps” to another topic.
You can use jumps to link topics within the Help system, from one Help system to
another, or even to a site on the Internet or intranet.
Popups. Popups are so named because they "pop up” in a little window over the
main window. Often, popups are used to define words or display notes or tips.
Popups are also used to display context-sensitive Help topics from inside an
application — users click on the Help button and the application displays a topic
relating to the context of where they are in the application or what they're trying to
Hotspot images. You can create clickable images that display a topic or jump to one
or more topics. These images can add interest and spark to your Help system. You
can also take advantage of the truth that "a picture is worth a thousand words” by
using clickable images consistent with your design. For example, rather than using
the word "tip” in your content, you can include a picture that consistently represents
a tip (such as a light bulb). This image provides a quick visual clue to users that the
information is a tip.
Browse sequences. You add browse sequences to provide a path for viewing topics
in a certain order. You group the topics in a particular order, and then you make that
order available using the browse buttons in the Help window. Browse sequences
provide a way for users to see and move around a group of Help topics. They are
especially useful for tutorials and online training guides where users read
information and perform actions in a specific order.
See Also and Related Topic links. See Also and Related Topic links provide you
with another way to show the relationship between similar topics. You can use them
to group topics that might be necessary or interesting to users.
Buttons. You can use existing buttons (like buttons on Help windows) or create
custom buttons to help users move from one topic to the next. The most common
linking buttons are the Previous and Next buttons that appear on the Help window.
Using these buttons, users can move forward and backwards through a set of topics
grouped into a browse sequence.
Strategies for Designing Links
After you decide the types of links to include, plan an overall navigational linking
strategy. Make sure your links compliment each other and work together.
Here are some basic considerations for developing a navigational linking strategy:
12 Palooza 2001 Help Labs
Keep it simple and consistent. "Less is more” is a good design rule,
regardless of whether you're designing the Help interface or its navigation.
Clearly identify the navigational elements, make them easy to recognize
and as visual as possible. And be consistent, if you're using a button to take
them to Related Topics, each time the button appears it should contain the
same label and appear in the same general location. Consistency is the best
way to train users how to use your system. But make sure navigation
doesn't get in the way of the information. Remember, what users really
want is the information. The navigational tools are simply a means to an
Provide a home base. Give users a reliable place to begin and end. This is
especially handy if users get lost. Typically, the point of entry is considered
"home base", which is why the table of contents and index are so visible.
Make sure users can go home from any place in the Help system.
Avoid over-navigating. Although it's important to provide a variety of
pathways, do not offer too many choices to avoid overwhelming users.
Make sure your navigational aids aren't just repeating topics in an effort to
Table of Contents
Users are familiar with a table of contents because they are standard in printed
materials and in most online documents. Tables of Contents (TOCs) allow them to
get an idea of the overall outline and organization of the Help system. Users can
browse through the TOC to find a topic or to see the relationship between topics.
The Help system's table of contents is contained in a file called the Contents file
(.CNT). This file controls the appearance and attributes of the Contents tab — the
tab that displays the Help system's contents. The Contents file uses the books and
Books. Group topics into chapters or steps. Users click on a book to display
its contents, which are represented by pages.
Pages. Represent individual topics. Users click on pages to display topics.
You can arrange the books and pages in any order. You can include all the topics in
your Help system or only those topics you think users are most likely to need.
Users often search through the index of a printed book to find the page containing
the information they're looking for. In a similar way, your index allows users to
search for information too, but much more interactively. In fact, studies show that
the index is used more frequently to find information than the table of contents or
full-text search. An index allows users to quickly get to the information they need
The Help index displays a multilevel list of topics and keywords or phrases that you
create. There are two ways users get to topics using the index:
Typing. Users can type a keyword or phrase and go directly to a topic or to
a list of topics containing that keyword or phrase.
Browsing. Users can also browse through the index, and then select a
keyword or phrase. They either go directly to the topic or to a list of topics
containing the selected keyword or phrase.
Step 1 About Help Files 13
You can have as many keywords and phrases as you want or need. When creating an
index, don't just limit yourself to terms inside the Help system. It's a good idea to
cross-reference keywords with synonyms. Carefully consider the words or phrases
according to your users' ways of thinking.
You can extend the functionality of your WinHelp Help system using macros.
Macros are coded scripts that perform certain functions, like providing access from a
topic to a Web site on the Internet. Both WinHelp 3 and WinHelp 4 Help systems
support macros, although WinHelp 4 systems support a wider range of WinHelp
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Creating a Help File
What you will learn in Step 1:
How to create a new help project.
How to create help topics, and add jumps, popups and buttons.
How to create WhatsThisHelp topics.
How to create a Contents Tab.
How to insert Multimedia files.
How to change Project Settings.
How to compile a Help Project.
How to create and edit a Map file.
How to generate WebHelp.
Approximate Time to Complete Step 1:
Approximately 1-1/2 hours.
What the Help File will look like after completing Step 1:
16 Palooza 2001 Help Labs
What We Will Cover in Step 1
In this step, we are going to create a Help file to be used in conjunction with an AVR
Application (see Step 2) and a Web Application.
The Help file will contain topics, jumps, popups, HTML topics, graphics, and
The Help file will be accessed from a Help Menu, (accessing the entire help file), as
well as utilizing context-sensitive help from a Help button and from each IOField by
pressing F1 or the WhatsThisHelp button.
The application we will be creating the help file for is shown below.
The Help file will need to have the appropriate pieces in place in order to do the
1. Call the entire Help file from the Help menu.
2. Call a topic called New Customer Information when the Help button is
3. Display individual help topics using the HelpContextID and HelpKey
properties, as well as display WhatsThisHelp popups using the
WhatsThisHelp ID property.
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