Using Help

Most programs have a "Help" menu, near the top of the screen. Beginners usually try the Help a few times, find it confusing and frustrating, and then they don't bother to try it any more. However, there are times when even beginners can benefit from the Help in the computer. And if you have used your computer for a while, you will probably find Help useful now and then.

There are a number of places to get stuck with computer Help. It is often difficult to find what you are looking for. Once you find what you are looking for, some Help is written for more advanced users. And even if it is written for beginners, some Help screens are just not written that well (because some writers are better than others).

However, don't give up on the computer's Help. Even beginners find useful things in there at times (and even if you don't find what you are looking for, when you ask another person for help, if they ask you if you have checked the computer's Help, you can at least say you looked).

There are 3 major ways to access almost all computer Help systems.

  1. Most Help systems have a "Contents." This is like the contents in a book. It lists all the sections in that Help file, in the order of chapters, and sub-headings, sub-sub-headings, etc. If you just want to learn more in general about a program, and you are not trying to solve a specific problem, look through the Contents.

    Contents Tip: If you see a "+" (plus sign) in a box, click on it to show the sub-headings (not shown here).

  2. Most Help systems have an Index, like the index in a book. The Index lists topics in alphabetical order. A human has carefully listed all the topics and where they are. This can be very handy to look up how to do something.

    However, just like in a book, an Index only includes what the index writer thought someone might be interested in. It is possible that what you are looking for is in the Help document, but is not listed in the Index under the topic you think it should be under. For example, a word like "program" might occur many times in a Help document, but the Index would only show some of those times, where the Help writer thought it would be useful to you. If you can't find what you are looking for in the Index, that is where a "Find" or "Search" command can be useful.

  3. Most Help systems also have a command called "Find" or "Search," that will search for a keyword that you specify. This is good for things that are not in the Index. For example, if you search for a word like "program" in a Help document, it will find every occurrence of the word "program" in that Help document. Note: If you search for a common word like "and" you will find many occurrences of it. It takes practice to learn how to use a search command effectively.

AND each program has its own separate Help file, which means you have to be in the right program first, before attempting to use Help. Even Windows has its own separate Help file. So if you want help with your Solitaire program, you have to be in the Solitaire program first, before you click on the Help menu at the top. (Note also, that sometimes, a larger program that has several sub-programs in it, may have more than one Help file, which can be more confusing to use).

You will still find Help frustrating to use (we all do), but it will probably be useful to you now and then, so test it out.

Written by Jim McGinn
Copyright 2003, McGinnovation Inc.

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