Write Perfect Help Files for Your Software with HelpScribble

A help file consists of a series of topics. A topic is a single page in the help file. When you press F1 in a Windows application, you will be shown one topic from its help file. Each topic generally explains one specific aspect of the application: a menu item, a small dialog box, etc. Most topics contain links to other topics which provide information about related aspects of the application.

In HelpScribble, you can create new topics by selecting Topic|New from the menu. Then you use HelpScribble's built-in word processor to type in the topic's text. To create a link to another topic, simply right-click on that topic in the list at the left, and pick "Create Link" from the pop-up menu. That is all there is to creating a help file.

A useful strategy is to first create all the topics using Topic|New. Type in their titles, but do not type in the actual text yet until all topics have been created. By first creating empty topics, you can focus on the general structure of the help file. When that is done, you can focus on the content of the individual topics. This also makes it easy to create links between topics while writing the body text, since you will have already created all topics.

How To Provide Context-Sensitive Help with Your Software

Windows applications request help by referencing a help file and a numeric topic ID. In the screen shot above, you will see that each topic in the list has a number. This is the number your application will use to request help.

Often, the programmer responsible for linking the application and the help file is not the technical writer using HelpScribble to create the help file. HelpScribble allows the writer to save the list of topics, with their titles and numbers, to a file. The list can also be printed from within HelpScribble. The programmer can then use this list to add the context-sensitive help calls.

A help file created with HelpScribble can be used as documentation with any Windows application, no matter which development tool you use. The most basic way to request help, context-sensitive or not, is to use the WinHelp() Windows API call. The fourth parameter of this API function is where you will put the Topic ID from HelpScribble. If you want to use the HTML Help format, use the HTMLHelp() API call.

Things are much easier when you use some kind of visual development tool. With most of these tools, all controls have a property called HelpContext, HelpID, or something similar. Set this property to the appropriate Topic ID from HelpScribble. When the user presses F1, the HelpContext number from the control that has input focus will be used to determine which help topic will be displayed.

Almost all Win32 development tools support WinHelp. Some also support HTML Help. .NET (dot net) development tools only support HTML Help. But HelpScribble fully supports both, and allows you to easily switch between both formats. When you download HelpScribble, you will see that we included its help file in both WinHelp and HTML Help format.

Examples for Particular Development Environments:

HelpScribble generates standard help files that can be used with any development tool. Please refer to the documentation that comes with your development tool to learn how to implement context-sensitive help. Often, all you need to do is specify the help file and the Topic ID numbers from HelpScribble in the right place in your development tool.

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