Context Sensitive Help

Why You Should Start Engaging Users with Context Sensitive Help

We’re used to thinking of context sensitive help as those archaic, painful-to-behold dialog boxes that would pop up on top of an error message or of Clippy, Microsoft’s over-eager and perpetually mistimed Office assistant. Thankfully, the practice of unhelpful help, or context-insensitive help, is gradually slip-sliding away.


Clippy’s demise, it turns out, is not only the result of its overbearing and interrupting presence, but can also be attributed to the fact that women found him creepy and leering. There’s a lesson in there somewhere about gender and customer listening, I’m sure.


clippy old CSH

Clippy and  friends

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How to Create Truly Context Sensitive Help

Context sensitive help is a leap of effectiveness for user help and product documentation: it provides on-page help, allowing the user to stay in-app, instead of wandering away to another tab/window and breaking her concentration by leaving “the zone”. Today, any competent technical communicator can create context sensitive help with a little help from developer from the R&D team.


The DIY options for creating CSH are here, but they are not perfect. We wrote a 5-step guide, with some of the process’ shortcomings, so you know where you stand when approaching the operation:


  1. Create a map file
  2. Write the help topics outlined in the map file
  3. Integrate the context sensitive help into the code base
  4. Publish the help topics
  5. Test


Let’s dig a little into each and every one of these steps:

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3 Problems with Context Sensitive Help Today

Time and again we are approached by technical communications experts asking if it is possible to create Context Sensitive Help (aka CSH or contextual help) using the Iridize training platform. The first time this happened I had to look up Context Sensitive Help, as the term was completely new to me. When it happened again and again it got me thinking:


  • Is there something missing with existing context sensitive help systems?
  • Can our own training platform provide a better solution to any of the existing problems that technical writers currently face in this arena?
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The Challenges of Customer Support Forums: What are the Alternatives?

Once upon a time, at the dawn of the internet when everything was still new and uninhibited, forums were your best way to get any kind of software support. Forums were used not only for support but also for socializing and expanding one’s network.


We’ve come a long way since then.

Peer forums have been replaced by Facebook groups and most software providers have since realized the significance of responsive, visible customer support for their brand and positioning. Surprisingly, that didn’t catalyze the demise of support forums. In fact, support forums are still a widely popular choice for many brands.


The advantages are obvious: support forums allow for a more personal touch in technical issues – support representatives write under their own names, often with their picture attached and are able to address a large number of users at the same time. Forums showcase the brand’s level of customer support and are a terrific keyword-based source for easy web search solutions.


But even with all these benefits, support forums still present a myriad of challenges that call their effectiveness as a support tool into question.


alternatives to online support forums

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MEGAcomm: Good Times at the Local Tech Comm Convention

There is a certain kind of hype that comes with good conventions. A Flare, if you’ll pardon the pun, of intellectual and marketing energy that surges and peaks during the convention day. The cutting edge innovations, the intensity of the program, the adrenaline rush that comes with meeting so many new people – all of those coalesce into a sensational meeting of minds and ideas.




MEGAcomm was brimming with that. In terms of personal experience – I would like to especially mention Julian Weiss’s outstanding talk on Product Education. I also enjoyed Maya Irving-Regev’s excellent overview on creating content for mobile devices. A standing ovation goes to the panel “Future Trends”, moderated by Rayne Wiselman: the subject of content curating gradually trickling into technical writing was discussed with much perception and the need to globalize content for translation’s sake gave much food for thought.


I was also reminded of something easily forgotten in our online work: the tremendous added value face-to-face networking has, especially in our local, intimate technical communications community. Lior Cohen of Net-Translators graciously pointed out the merits of combining forces – a context-sensitive online help service like Iridize would mutually benefit from teaming up with an SEO consulting service, maximizing the conversion rate potential.


All in all, one theme seemed to be interwoven throughout the panels, lectures and conversations heard in MEGAcomm: Change. A change in the atmosphere, attributed to the economic climate and to the ever-growing speed with which our technological landscape is changing. This ongoing need to stay in motion requires dynamic adaptability. It requires professional flexibility. Content, communications, user assistance, lean software – all of these intertwine and are gradually becoming interdependent.