This article is for software developers who have never implemented context-sensitive help. It explains the concepts and the basic types of context-sensitive help. A demonstration application with context-sensitive help is available.
What is context-sensitive help?
Most people know about context-sensitive help, even if they do not use that term. For example, if you click a Help button on a screen, and if the help topic that appears applies to the dialog box (instead of being the first topic in the help), then the help is context-sensitive.
Context-sensitivity two basic forms:
- Field-level context-sensitivity. When you click an object on a screen, a small item of help appears. Usually, the help is only a short paragraph that explains the object.
- Dialog-level or screen-level context-sensitivity. A help window appears. Typically, the help explains all the objects on the screen. Sometimes, the help contains procedural information or conceptual information about the dialog box or the screen. Usually, there are hyperlinks to other related topics.
Linking the application and the help
A help topic is related to an object in an application by a map ID (or context ID), which is a number. Typically, the object is a screen or a dialog box, although it can be a button or an entry field, for example.
When a user presses the F1 key or the Help button, the application calls the help file, and passes a value that corresponds to the required help topic. The details are dependent on the IDE that is used to create the application.
The map ID values are arbitrary. They can be supplied by the software developers or by the help author.
Three files are available:
- A Word file that contains a form (to simulate a software program). To use the form, you must let macros run.
- A demonstration help file (WinHelp 2000 format) called sample-context-help.hlp.
- A secondary file called sample-context-help.cnt. This file is necessary to display the table of contents in the help file.
Download a zipped set of files: context-sensitivity-files.zip, 18 KB.