Re: Context-sensitive vs. navigational help

Subject: Re: Context-sensitive vs. navigational help
From: wswallow -at- nycap -dot- rr -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 24 Jun 2004 10:23:56 -0400

A client of mine wants me to develop a context-sensitive help system for an application. This means that when a user is on a particular screen in the application and clicks Help or F1, a help topic for that screen is displayed. But the client is now concerned that if a user needs to navigate to a particular screen in the application, he/she won't know how to do that unless the help system also provides navigational instructions. How do writers handle this? Do you include separate topics for navigation in addition to providing context-sensitive help for each window? I'm afraid this will make the help system somewhat confusing.

Nope. Look at any Help systems for the applications you use. Chances are they are context-sensitive, yet still available via the Help menu in a stand-alone fashion. The only difference between context-sensitive help and stand-alone help is contect sensitivity, and that's it.

In this case, the user can only access the help file/topics from within the application. There is no way to just open the help and read it without being in the app.

There is no reason why this needs to be the case. No additional work needs to happen to make a stand-alone help system context-sensitive other than adding the topic IDs, and with CHM, even that doesn't need to happen (you can reference the indivitual html topics within a chm from an application easily enough: file.chm#topic.html).

Hope this helps.


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