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help system (help file)

A help system (sometimes called a help file ) is a documentation component of a software program that explains the features of the program and helps the user understand its capabilities. A bit like an extensive, organized, and thorough collection of FAQ s (frequently asked questions), the help system's purpose is to provide the answers that a user needs to understand to use the program effectively.

In most Windows applications, pressing the F1 key opens the help system for the program. Most often, a help system consists of a multi-part window with a program overview, an index, a contents listing, and a search capacity. In Microsoft Word, however, pressing F1 may summon an extremely persistent animated paper clip character called Clippit, often referred to as "Clippy." Designed to be user-friendly, Clippit does his best to respond to natural language questions.

In Word '97 and 2000, if you'd prefer a different assistant, you can select another one: Go to Help > select Show the Office assistant (if Clippit is already selected, just right-click and select Options ) > select the Gallery tab, and hit the Next button to choose among an Albert Einstein look-alike, Mother Nature, a robot, and others (assuming you've installed them). If you'd prefer to look for answers yourself, click the Options tab and deselect Use the Office Assistant . Then, the Help menu will take you to the traditional help system for Word.

There are a number of products, such as RoboHelp and ComponentOne, that are used to automate the tasks involved in help system development.

This was last updated in March 2011
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