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Online Help

Help Systems

Most software applications have hundreds of features and it is virtually impossible to be an expert on all of them. It is with this in mind that understanding the software application help feature is essential. Help systems are typically step-by-step documentation on how to use a particular software application function. [1] Help system are often task aware, and will provide users with solutions specifically related to the task at hand. Most help systems have the following features:

  • Index
  • Table of contents
  • Search capability

In most Windows-based software applications, the help feature can be accessed through either a toolbar menu item, or by pressing the F1 key. "Users expect a help screen or similar help services popup when they press the F1 key. Software binding this key to some other feature are likely to face astonishment at the lack of help." [2]

Help systems can be loaded on the computer with the application, or they may be Web-based. One of the benefits of a Web-based help system is the regular updates.

Help Forums

In addition to software help modules and Web-based help, some software applications are supported by discussion forums where participants help each other. These help forums may be sponsored by the software companies or be operated by interested users. These forums help users solve problems as well as provide tips and tricks to get the most out of a software application.

Strategies help others use the help system

Hoffman offers solid tips for encouraging learners to use the online help system rather than immediately call the help desk: [3]

  • Have help desk staff ask calls if they have first tried online help.
  • Have help desk staff walk learner through steps while user is also looking at help system.


  1. What is Help System? - Definition from (n.d.) Retrieved July 23, 2012, from
  2. Principle of least astonishment. (2012, July 10). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:24, July 23, 2012, from
  3. Hoffman, B. (2003). Informal learning: Managing the training function. Alexandria, Va.: ASTD. Retrieved from

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