RE: Building HTML Help from a Database?

Subject: RE: Building HTML Help from a Database?
From: "John Locke" <mail -at- freelock -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 28 Mar 2001 08:29:56 -0800

Barb asks,
> I would
> like our development staff to be able to directly document the programming
> information, preferably in a database. This would ensure accuracy and also
> provide a simple way for developers to update information. I'm
> hoping there
> is a tool available which can convert database information such as this to
> HTML Help. Does anyone know of such a tool? I'm not set on the type of
> database I use.... just that I think this would be the easiest and most
> sensible long-term solution for this type of documentation project.

Yes, there is a tool that does this, and you already have it. It's called
...<drumroll...> Microsoft Word <What?> and the feature is Mail Merge. I've
used it for years to merge data from other Word files, Excel, and Access
into HTML templates.

The first time I came up with this method, it took me about half an hour to
figure it out, create a template and merge Excel data into it. That was
years ago... with experience, it takes no longer than it does to create the
template in the first place.

It doesn't save the output for you, though. It dumps it all in one big file,
but from there it's easy to select a page at a time, copy it out, and save
it. Most of what I was creating was long lists of records on a single
page--if I had to save a bunch of HTML pages from the output, I'd probably
develop a macro to save the pages automatically.

Here are the basic steps for using mail merge. While the location on the
menus has changed in different versions of Word, this basic approach has
worked at least since Word 3.0. These are for Word 2000:

1. If you already have the basic HTML you want to use as a template, open it
in Word. If not, create it.
2. On the Tools menu, click Mail Merge (not merge documents!).
3. Under Main document, click Create, and then click either Catalog or Form
Letters. The main difference is that Word inserts a page break between
records in the Catalog version. Choose Active Window to create the main
4. Under Data Source, click Get Data, and then click Open Data Source. You
can select from a variety of data sources, including Excel, Access, and raw
data files (tab-delimited or CSV files work well). In later versions, you
can use MS Query to get data from an ODBC data source.
5. Go back to the main document. The mail merge toolbar should now show, and
give you pull-down menus with the headers for all the merge fields in the
data source. Insert these fields wherever you want them to appear in your
6. When you're finished, start the mail merge to a new document.
7. Scan the resulting document for errors, save out individual sections to
test & fix (you've probably forgotten something...)
8. Run your macro to break the resulting document up and save individual
HTML pages. I would write the macro to look for a specific marker I put at
the top of the main document, grab the next field to use to build a
filename, copy out the rest of that record, save it to the filename, and
repeat until the end of the file.

Hope that helps... it probably sounds worse than it is!

John Locke


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