How to Create a Help File, Web Help System, or Printed Manual

If you are a beginner technical writer, this article will show you how to create your first CHM help file, Web Help system, or Printed Manual by using one of the help authoring tools. By following these step-by-step instructions, you will get a working help file with a Table of Contents, Alphabetical index, and Search capability.

Download and install HelpSmith

Download and install HelpSmith

Step 1: Install a Help Authoring Tool

In the first step, you can download and install a help authoring tool that we use in this guide. To start downloading, you can click on the button below.

Once the download process is complete, double-click on the setup file to install the help tool on your computer.

Step 2: Start a New Help Project

In most help authoring tools, a help project is the source file that contains help topics and other data, which is necessary to compile the final help file or manual. Therefore, on this step, you should simply begin a new help project.

To do so, click Start New Project on the Start Page in the help authoring tool.

Creating a New Help Project

Creating a New Help Project

Step 3: Add Help Topics

Now you can add one or more help topics to your help project.

To add a new help topic:

  1. On the Project tab, in the Topics & Templates group, click Add.
  2. In the dialog, define topic settings such as title, numeric identifier (Context), and textual identifier (Id).
  3. Click OK.

Thus, on this step you can prepare a skeleton structure of your documentation: similarly to adding a topic, you can add a heading item and unite several topics under a common heading. However, it should be pointed out that you will be able to modify the help file structure at any time.

Adding a New Topic

Adding a New Topic

Step 4: Write Content

You can click on one of the help topics in the Project Manager in order to edit its content in the built-in word processor.

Using the word processor (which is similar to a regular word processor application from your office package), you can type text, apply different font settings, change paragraph alignment, insert images, hyperlinks, tables, and other objects.

Writing Content in the Word Processor

Writing Content in the Word Processor

As to the hyperlinks, the help authoring tool allows you to insert hyperlinks linking to other help topics within the same help project, to an external web page, or to an email address.

For example, to insert a new hyperlink:

  1. On theInsert tab, in the Links group, click Hyperlink.
  2. In the Insert Hyperlink dialog, define hyperlink settings such as hyperlink's text, link type (in the left sidebar), and the topic to which you want to link (or URL for an external hyperlink).
  3. Click OK.

Step 5: Organize the Table of Content

As mentioned in the Step 3, you can use the Project Manager tool to add and organize Table of Contents items of different types such as topics, headings, URL links, and also links to other topics within the same help project.

To add new items to the Table of Contents, click the Add button on the Project tab in the Topics & Templates group.

When you need change the Table of Contents structure (for example, to move a topic into a heading item), you can do so by using the drag-n-drop method.

Editing the Table of Contents

Editing the Table of Contents

Step 6: Provide Keyword Index

A keyword Index in a help file or printed manual contains terms sorted in alphabetical order, so the user can quickly find a topic which describes a specific term.

To create a keyword Index for your help file, you should add keywords and associate them with corresponding help topic.

To add a new keyword:

  1. On the Project tab, in the Keywords groups, click Add.
  2. In the Keywords pane, edit the keyword.
  3. Press Enter.

Please note that the new keyword is checked by default which means that it is associated with the current help topic.

To associate a keyword with another topic:

  1. In the Project Manager, select the topic you need.
  2. In the Keywords pane, check the keywords that you want to associate with the current topic.
Adding a Keyword

Adding a Keyword

Step 7: Setup Help Project Settings

Before you compile your help file or printable manual, you should also setup settings such as the title of your help file, copyright information, language, select a help topic that should be displayed when the help file opens, and so on.

To edit settings of your help project:

  1. On the Project tab, in the Project group, click Project Options.
  2. In the Project Options dialog, define the settings according to your needs.
  3. Click OK.
Editing Project Settings

Editing Project Settings

Step 8: Compile Your Help File or Printed Manual

Finally, you can compile your help project and get the resulting CHM help file, Web Help system, printed manual, PDF document, or MS Word file.

To compile your help project:

  1. On the Project tab, in the Project group, click Compile.
  2. In the Compilation Options dialog, select the output help format you want.
  3. Click OK.

Related Links

You can find additional information on creating a CHM help file or online help system by visiting the links below:

Compilation of the Resulting Help File

Compilation of the Resulting Help File

Download a Help Authoring Tool

You can download one of the recommendable help authoring tools that combines a rich feature-set, slight learning curve, and affordable price.

HelpSmith Download

HelpSmith main window

Product Details:

Detail Value
Product HelpSmith 7.3
Filename HelpSmithSetup.exe
File size 40 MB
Platform Windows 10/8/7/Vista/XP
System requirements 1 GHz processor, 512MB RAM, 150MB free disk space