| by Scott DeLoach
Embedded Help is a new, cutting-edge approach to delivering
online Help. However, there are few examples of embedded Help for technical
communicators to explore. Embedded Help is very different from other types
of online Help: it requires very short and focused topics that do not
rely on a traditional organizational tool such as a table of contents
or index. This paper provides and overview of embedded Help, discusses
two examples, and explains how technical communicators can design embedded
is Embedded Help?
Embedded Help is Help that appears within the application
rather than in a separate Help window. One of the early examples of embedded
Help was the Help system in Microsoft Money 99. When the user selects
"Help Topics" from the Help menu, the Money 99 Help attaches to the right
side of the application. The Microsoft Money 99 Help offers tutorials,
explanations, and demonstrations to help the user use and learn Microsoft
Figure 1. Embedded Help example (Microsoft Money 99)
Embedded Help can also be created for web-based
applications. In Figure 2, a frames-based web application actively displays
context sensitive Help when the user selects different form fields.
Figure 2. Embedded Help example (Web-based application)
Do I Create Embedded Help?
To create embedded Help, you will need to maintain a close working relationship
with application developers. To add embedded Help to a Windows application,
the developer can embed an Active X web browser control into the application.
If you are creating embedded Help for a web-based application, the developer
topics. The Help files will need to be created using HTML.
How Do I
Design Embedded Help?
As you can see from the examples, the embedded Help
area can be very small. Your Help topics will need to be very focused.
Try to provide short descriptions with simple examples. Also, consider
using a small sans serif font such as MS Sans 9 point and minimize the
space before and after headings. Embedded Help should be designed to take
advantage of full-text search, related topics links, and layering. For
larger Help systems, make sure that the full-text search box is easy to
find and use. Related topics links can be used to help the user explore
additional information. For example, a topic about importing files should
include a list of file types that can be imported. At the end of the topic,
you could provide a link to a conceptual topic about importing files for
new users and a link to an advanced topic explaining import options for
experts. Finally, you could layer the topic information by providing additional
information when the user selects a file type from the list.
What Do I
Need to Know?
To create embedded Help, you should be very comfortable
with HTML. If you are creating Help specifically for a version 4+ browser,
with DHTML to layer information. CSS can be used to format your topics
based on one set of rules, rather than formatting everything by hand.
The following Web sites and books provide information
about embedded Help or related technologies:
Hyperviews:Online, the Online SIG's quarterly newsletter, features
articles on all facets of online Help development, including embedded
The WinHelp e-mail discussion group archive. If you have a question about
online Help, this should be your first stop.
Our Web site includes information about HTML-based Help and a "links"
page with links to online help, tools, usability, GUI design, instructional
design, and rhetoric Web sites.
Lie, Håkon Wium and Bert Bos, Cascading Style Sheets:
Designing for the Web, New York, NY: Addison-Wesley, 1999.
The guide to Cascading Style Sheets, from the authors of the CSS standard.
NY: McGraw-Hill, 1998.
This book focuses on version 4+ browsers and provides good information
about Dynamic HTML.
CA: O'Reilly & Associates, 1997.
Founding Partner - User First Services, Inc.
User First Services, Inc.
45B South Peachtree Street
Norcross, GA 30071
Scott DeLoach is a founding partner of User First Services,
Inc, an Atlanta-based consulting company that specializes in designing
and creating user assistance. Scott has received two STC International
Online Competition Awards for interactive user assistance systems, and
he currently serves as the STC International Online SIG Manager. He holds
a Master's degree in Technical and Scientific Communication from Miami