Customizing TOCs?

Subject: Customizing TOCs?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: Sharon O'Neill <sharon -at- libram -dot- co -dot- uk>, TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 13 Jun 2006 16:58:01 -0400

Sharon O'Neill wondered: <<I have a customer who wants me to create a different online help system from the usual ones. He wants me to change the TOC. He wants buttons on the bottom left-hand-side of the online help window which control what you see in the online help treeview displayed directly above these buttons. So say for example he has a module called 'Personnel', he wants the TOC treeview for 'Personnel' online help displayed in the top left-hand-side of the online help window when the user clicks on the 'Personnel' button at the bottom left-hand-side of the window and if he has another module called 'Recruitment', he wants the TOC treeview to change to the 'Recruitment' online help when the user clicks on the 'Recruitment' button.>>

Personally, I'd make the help context-sensitive so that you get the help for the module you're currently using, with no need to click any buttons. If the software is at all well-designed, it's going to be pretty rare that anyone will want the Personnel help while you're in the Recruitment module (and vice versa). For those rare times, provide a link at the top of each TOC to the other help files.

If you've got to build this the way you've described, then the best solution is to do this directly in the software interface. No muss, no fuss, no bother. Then simply link from the buttons to the relevant TOC. Should take the programmers about 5 minutes to do, including testing. Of course, that's in the real world; in the fantasy world of software development, it might not be that easy. That being the case:

No idea how to do this elegantly, but here's a really simple kludge: create a table at the _top_ of each page that will appear in the left window, with each cell containing a hyperlink to the appropriate section of the help. Think of this as similar to the navigation bar at the top of a typical Web page. Define that table as being part of the non-scrolling region so it stays at the top of the window even if users scroll down. (You might be able to do this at the bottom of the window too... I've been away from Help technologies for too long. In any event, putting it at the top ensures that users see it right from the start, and you can make a case for this design based on the fact that it's a common Web convention.)

Next, format the table so each cell looks like a button (e.g., color it and add the button text), then hyperlink the button to the appropriate TOC. So in your example, there'd be one cell for Personnel and one for Recruitment. Next, create one TOC for Personnel and another for Recruitment. When you click the button to display one of the two TOCs, you load a new page containing that TOC, with the buttons (i.e., the navigation bar table) at the top and the button for that TOC highlighted in such a way that it looks like the button has been pressed. Click the other button and you load the TOC for the other module, with the navigation bar/table at the top, and you get the same result, only with the other button down.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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Customizing TOCs: From: Sharon O'Neill

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