SolutionBase: Create custom Help files with Help Publisher for FrontPage

Documentation can be dull. You can make documentation for your users easier to use, more useful, and easier to distribute by using Help files tailored for your organization. Here's how to use Help Publisher for FrontPage to create custom Help files.

This article is also available as a TechRepublic download.

Like most technical support folks, chances are you've created FAQ documents to provide the users you support with answers to common questions. Have you ever wanted to convert those FAQs into Help files?

If you have access to FrontPage 2000, 2002 (XP), or 2003 — and are familiar with the basics of HTML — you can use Help Publisher for FrontPage from Indigoware to easily turn your technical support documents into compiled Windows Help files. In this article, I'll show you how to obtain and use Help Publisher for FrontPage to create Help files to distribute FAQ information to the users on your network.

Getting started

Help Publisher is actually a front end to Microsoft's HTML Help Workshop and relies on it to perform the actual compilation of Help files. Help Publisher runs HTML Help Workshop in the background, so you won't encounter it after installation.

Installing HTML Help Workshop is a snap — just run the executable file to begin the installation procedure and accept all of the default settings. Installation requires about 4MB of hard drive space.

Once you've installed HTML Help Workshop, download Help Publisher For FrontPage; just run the executable file and accept all of the default settings.

Once Help Publisher is installed, it will immediately launch FrontPage and prompt you to run a tutorial on Help Publisher. The tutorial is very informative and will teach you the basics of the application.

Organizing your Help file information

After installation, you're ready to organize the information you want to turn into a Help file. For example, suppose you have a six-question FAQ on using complex passwords on your company's network. In this case, break your FAQ down into seven different documents in FrontPage — one document for the questions and six documents for each of the answers.

If your password FAQ is saved as a standard text file, you can open the FAQ in Notepad and copy-and-paste the various sections over to FrontPage.

Preparing FrontPage

In my example, I'm going to be using FrontPage 2003. On the File menu, click New and select One Page Web Site. On the Web Site Templates dialog box, select One Page Web Site. Click OK.

When FrontPage displays the new Web site, point to Help Publisher and select Enable Help Publisher In Web Site. The majority of the buttons on the toolbar are now enabled.

You can access the majority of Help Publisher's commands on the toolbar; it's the speediest option for users familiar with the command names and icons. For this article, I will be using the Help Publisher menu.

Creating your documents

Now that Help Publisher is enabled, double-click the blank index.htm document that FrontPage added to the new Web site. Copy and paste the first section of your FAQ from Notepad into the FrontPage document. Format it as you wish, as shown in Figure A. Save the document.

Figure A

The questions from your FAQ will make up the first document you'll create in FrontPage.

To continue, click the Create A New Normal Page button on the main FrontPage toolbar. Copy the first answer section of your FAQ from Notepad, paste it into FrontPage, and format it, as shown in Figure B. Then save the document using an appropriate name, such as answer_1.

Figure B

The first answer section of your FAQ will make up the second document you'll create in FrontPage.

Create new pages, subsequently copy and paste each of the other answers from your FAQ into the pages, and save them.

Creating the navigation system

At this point, none of the documents in FrontPage are linked together. Open the index.htm document and use FrontPage's Insert Hyperlink feature to create links to each of the answer documents, or use Help Publisher's Contents features to create a standard Help file table of contents (TOC) tree structure. Of course, you can do both. In this example, we'll create a table of contents.

To create a standard Help file TOC tree structure, enable the Contents tab and navigate to Help Publisher | Project Options | Windows. Select Include Contents Tab, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

Selecting the Include Contents Tab check box is the first step in building a table of contents for your Help file.

While you have this dialog box open, locate the Window Title Bar Text box at the top and type in an appropriate title for the Help file. In this example, you might simply type Password FAQ. Click OK.

Now that you've enabled the Contents Tab, you'll create the actual TOC structure. On the Help Publisher menu, select Contents Editor. The only thing you'll see in the file list pane is the index.htm file, as shown in Figure D. Take note of the arrow buttons and the Add button at the bottom of the file pane.

Figure D

You'll use the Contents Editor to actually create your table of contents structure.

To add a file to the list, click the Add button. A place holder titled New Entry will appear below the index.htm file in the file list pane. Click the right arrow button once to indent the New Entry place holder, as shown in Figure E. Take note of the Label and Target sections of the Contents Editor dialog box.

Figure E

Once you indent the New Entry place holder, you'll see the tree structure begin to take shape.

To add the actual file, uncheck Only Show Label under Label. Click Browse to bring up the Set Contents Linked Topic dialog box, as shown in Figure F. For this example, select the answer_1.htm file and click OK.

Figure F

You'll select the actual files in the Set Contents Linked Topic dialog box.

To add the rest of the files, subsequently click Add, uncheck Only Show Label, click Browse, and select a file in the Set Contents Linked Topic dialog box. For this example, the Contents Editor dialog box will look like the one shown in Figure G when you're done. Click OK to complete the table of contents.

Figure G

When you finish selecting files, the Contents Editor will essentially display the table of contents just like it will appear in the Help file.

Compiling the Help file

You can now compile the Help file: Navigate to Help Publisher | Compile HTML Help File. You'll see the Compiling dialog box, along with a progress bar, as shown in Figure H.

Figure H

While Help Publisher for FrontPage runs HTML Workshop in the background to compile the Help file, you'll see a progress bar in the Compiling dialog box.

Once the Help file is compiled, it will open, as shown in Figure I. You can then go through the contents of your Help file and proofread. If you find any mistakes or things that you want to change, simply go back to FrontPage, make the changes, and recompile the Help file.

Figure I

Help Publisher for FrontPage will display the completed Help file as soon as it is compiled.

Completing your project

When you're satisfied with your Help file and are ready to distribute it, access the folder containing the compiled HTML Help file and copy it to any location you wish. Help Publisher will name the file after the folder that FrontPage creates for the Web site and the file will have the CHM extension.

In the case of my example, the file was called myweb7.chm and it was located in the My Documents\My Webs\myweb7 folder.

Of course, you can easily rename the CHM file to whatever you want. To test your stand-alone Help file, simply double-click the CHM file.

That's all there is to it

When it comes to distributing FAQs to the users on a large network, you'll find that creating Help files with Help Publisher is an easy and effective way to get the word out to your users. Keep in mind that the Help file I created for my example was very basic; however, as you work with the Help Publisher, you'll discover that the program is packed with additional features that you can use to create more exciting Help files. For more information, check out Help Publisher for FrontPage's own Help file, which is accessible on the Help Publisher menu.

About Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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