Context-Sensitive Help

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.

There are two basic forms of con­text sensitivity:

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 of help.

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.

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