Common Desktop Environment: Help System Author's and Programmer's Guide

Help Information Model

There are two general styles of online help:

If you are developing online help for an application, you may choose to organize the information exclusively for access within the application. Or, you may design the information such that it can be browsed without the application present, as in standalone help.

Part of the Application

Help promotes a high degree of integration between the application and its online help. From the user's perspective, the help is part of the application. This approach minimizes the perceived "distance" away from the application that the user must travel to get help.

Staying close to the application makes users more comfortable with online help and gets them back on task as quickly as possible.

Types of Help

Online help can be divided into three general categories:

How Users Get Help

A user can request help in several ways. Most applications provide a Help menu and Help key as well as Help buttons in dialog boxes.

Help Key

Within most applications, the primary way for a user to request help is by pressing the help key. In recent years, the F1 function key has become a defacto standard help key for many workstation and personal computer products.

The CDE Style Guide and Certification Checklist recommends the use of F1 as the help key, and the OSF/Motif programmer's toolkit even provides some built-in behavior to make it easier to implement the help key in OSF/Motif applications.

Some computers provide a Help key on the keyboard.

Help Menu

The Help menu is a common way to provide access to help information. OSF/Motif applications provide a Help menu, which is right-justified in the menu bar. The CDE Style Guide and Certification Checklist makes recommendations regarding the commands contained in a Help menu.

Figure 1-1 Application Help menu


Help Buttons

Many dialog boxes also provide a Help button to get help on the dialog. The CDE Style Guide and Certification Checklist recommends that choosing the Help button in a dialog box be equivalent to pressing the Help key while using that dialog. Exceptions should be made for complex dialogs, where help on individual controls within the dialog box is appropriate.