Creating self-help files that reuse already-created content

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No matter how much training and documentation we deliver, clients will need help and here is an easy way to create it!

I am working at a customer site in which the user manual that was created is thorough and complete, the training classes have included hands-on training that was great and yet I am sure that some of the clients will find that steps they did in class will be forgotten. There is a relatively easy way for a non-IT person to create great help content reusing documentation you have already created.

Everyone is familiar with the help files that Microsoft includes in Office and its other products. Microsoft provides at no-cost a downloadable solution for building a help file using existing content.

If you go to Microsoft’s download site at, you can download Microsoft HTML Help 1.4 which is all you need to build a customer ready help file that can be integrated into your solution or can point to a website with hyperlinks to the same help content. If your documents are in good outline form, those sections form the structure and categories of the help file. Just save your document as HTML and then use that as the base for your help file. If your document does not show well in outline mode, you may have to create an index file with section headings but it is not hard to do. The same Microsoft site provides step by step instructions on how to build your help file but if in your engagement you keep your documentation in the same location you can continue to build new versions of your help file by going into the help project and clicking recompile.

Your customers will be delighted as the same help that they search for will point them to the same steps they went through for training and you will have the basis for a repeatable way to synchronize training and documentation content with the self-help they can search to reinforce what they learned in training.