Help File and Documentation Formats

Do you need to create a help file for Windows application, online Web Help system, Printed Manual document, or electronic book? Below you will find a quick review of most popular documentation formats which are used today.

HTML Help (.CHM files)

HTML Help is the primary format used for application help files in the Windows environment. Based on the HTML markup language to store the content of help topics, an HTML Help system represents a single file with the .CHM extension, which contains all the data necessary for the help system to work properly.

The viewer of CHM files - that is available on any Windows computer since Windows 98 - provides navigation tools such as the Table of Contents, alphabetical Index, and also full-text search capability. In addition, it should be pointed out that applications can use HTML Help (API) to interact with a help file and provide context-sensitive Help to the end-user.

An HTML Help system

An HTML Help system

Related Links:

Below you can find detailed information on creation and usage of CHM help files:

If you need to integrate a CHM file with your application, you can find code samples by visiting the links below:

Web Help (HTML-based help system)

Web Help is a browser-based (or HTML-based) help system format that can be used for a web service or web application to provide documentation to the end-user. Since a Web Help system is fully based on HTML like a regular website, users can access such as help system with a browser program such as Internet Explorer or Google Chrome.

A Web Help system usually includes standard navigation tools including a Table of Contents, alphabetical Index, and Search capability. Also, it includes the possibility for the developer to integrate the help system with a website or application to provide context-sensitive Help.

A web-based help system displayed in a browser

A web-based help system displayed in a browser

Related Links:

You can find full information on the Web Help format by visiting the link below:

MS Word (.DOC, .DOCX)

MS Word documents are widely used to create and deliver documentation of any kinds including user manuals, guides, and instructions.

However, depending on the task, an MS Word document can be used as the primary documentation format (for example, for a user manual distributed along with an application or device), or as an in-between source of material used by a technical writer to create a stand-alone help system in another format such as Web Help or CHM help.

A printable manual written in Microsoft Word

A printable manual written in Microsoft Word

Adobe PDF

Adobe PDF is mostly used to deliver printed documentation the way that it will look on any platform and device the same as on the author's computer where it was initially created. Thus, as a cross-platform document that supports font-embedding, compression, and encryption features, Adobe PDF is often used for different kinds of documentation including user manuals and guides.

While in most cases, a special viewer application (for example, Adobe Reader on a Windows PC) is used to open PDF documents, it is also possible to view PDF documents with a web browser, which means that a PDF document can be located and accessed from a web server.

It should be pointed out that PDF is a read-only format which makes it impossible for the user who receives it to modify the document's content. This may be considered an advantage or disadvantage depending on a specific task.

PDF manual in Adobe Reader

PDF manual in Adobe Reader

ePub

ePub is an open format developed for electronic books (e-books) by International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). Being a vendor-independent format, a ePub book can be viewed on most popular devices and platforms including Windows, MacOS, Linux, and mobile systems such as iOS and Android.

From the technical point, ePub is an open XML-based format which is delivered in a single ZIP archive file (with the .epub extension) that contains content for pages, CSS style sheets, images, and all the rest data necessary for the e-book to work properly.

A ePub ebook in Adobe Digital Editions program

A ePub ebook in Adobe Digital Editions program

MS Help 2.x

MS Help 2.x is a help file format developed by Microsoft that is mostly used in Visual Studio and MSDN. Also, it is used in MS Office and some third party IDEs.

To create an MS Help 2.x file, you can use Help 2.0 Workshop (VSHIK) or a help authoring tool that provides support for this help format.

Microsoft Help 2.x

Microsoft Help 2.x

JavaHelp

A help file format developed for use with Java applications. Similarly to other help formats, JavaHelp provides tools for easy navigation including TOC, Index and Search capability. To view a help system written in this format, JavaHelp browser is used.

A manual in Java Help format

A manual in Java Help format

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