Add custom Help text to a form template

To help users understand the purpose of your form, and to help them fill it out successfully, you can add instructional Help text to your form template.

This article explains how to determine the best type of Help text for your form template by considering factors such as the type of form template you create, your audience, how widely your form template will be deployed, and whether users will fill out forms based on your form template by using a Web browser.

In this article


Compatibility considerations

When you design a form template in Microsoft Office InfoPath 2007, you can choose to design a browser-compatible form template (browser-compatible form template: A form template that is designed in InfoPath by using a specific compatibility mode. A browser-compatible form template can be browser-enabled when it is published to a server running InfoPath Forms Services.). When you design a browser-compatible form template, some features are unavailable. For example, custom task panes (custom task pane: An .html file whose content is displayed in a window next to a form. Custom task panes can provide form-specific commands and Help content.), which are often used to display custom Help text, are unsupported in browser-compatible form templates. To add Help to a browser-compatible form template, consider an alternate way to add Help, such as using conditional formatting (conditional formatting: The process of changing the appearance of a control, including its visibility and read-write state, based on values entered into the form.) to display contextual Help.

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Types of Help

Depending on the complexity of your form template and the needs of your users, you can add different types of Help text, using different procedures. Depending on your form template, you might use more than one type of Help text in your form template. The following is a list of the most common ways to display Help text in your form template:

 Tip   Because browser-compatible form templates do not support custom task panes, using Help views to display Help text is a good alternative to custom task panes.

  • Custom task pane    A custom task pane is an HTML file whose content is displayed in an InfoPath task pane when a user fills out a form. You can specify only one HTML file to open in the default custom task pane for your form template, but you can add additional HTML files to your form template as resource files, and then create hyperlinks between them. Only HTML files can be displayed in custom task panes. Custom task panes can provide form-specific commands and Help content. You can add an HTML file directly to your form template, so that users can view the custom task pane Help even while they fill out the form offline, or you can link the custom task pane to an HTML file that is stored in another location. For example, if you plan to update the Help content frequently, but don't want to publish your form template each time an update is made to the HTML Help file, it is a good idea to store the HTML file in another location and link to it from the custom task pane. Remember that browser-compatible form templates do not support custom task panes, so you should create a custom task pane only for forms that will be filled out in InfoPath.
  • Conditional formatting     You can use conditional formatting to specify different formatting options for a control that are based on conditions that occur on the form. If the specified conditions are true when a user fills out a form, the conditional formatting is applied. When you add Help text to a section in your form template and add conditional formatting to that section, you allow a user to show or hide contextual Help text for a section or control as needed, without switching views. This is a useful way to provide inline Help for specific sections or controls for users who want the Help.
  • External Help     You can add a link to an external file, such as an HTML file on a Web site. For example, if the technical support Web site for your organization contains a Web page for starting a live chat session with a technical support engineer, you can add a hyperlink to your form template that enables users to open that page in their Web browsers. This approach is useful when you design a form template for another department in your organization, and that department is best qualified to provide users with Help or technical support.
  • The InfoPath Help system for users who fill out forms     InfoPath contains a dedicated Help system for users who fill out forms. By instructing your users to press F1 while they fill out a form, you enable them to access these Help topics about standard InfoPath functionality. Use this approach for forms that users fill out by using InfoPath only.

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Create a view to show Help

In order to create a separate view in your form template for users to view Help about filling out the form, you need to first create a Help view for your form template, and then add a button to your default form view that users can click in order to access the Help view.

Create a Help view

  1. On the View menu, click Manage Views.
  1. Under Actions in the Views task pane, click Add a New View.
  2. In the New view name box, type a name for the Help view, and then click OK.

For example, type Help.

  1. On the form template, click in the view that you just added, and type or paste the Help text that you want.
  2. If the Controls task pane is not visible, click More Controls on the Insert menu, or press ALT+I, C.
  1. In the Controls task pane, click Button.
  2. Right-click the button that you added, and then click Button Properties on the shortcut menu.
  3. Click the General tab.
  4. In the Label box, type a label for the button. For example, type Return to Form.
  5. Click Rules.
  6. In the Rules dialog box, click Add.
  7. Click Add Action.
  8. In the Action box, click Switch views.
  9. In the View box, click the name of your default view.
  10. Click OK four times to return to the form template.

After you create the Help view for your form template, you need to add a button to your default view, so that users can easily access the Help view when they fill out your form.

Add a button to your default view

  1. On the View menu, click Manage Views.
  1. In the Views task pane, click the name of your default view.
  2. If the Controls task pane is not visible, click More Controls on the Insert menu, or press ALT+I, C.
  1. In the Controls task pane, click Button.
  2. Right-click the button that you added, and then click Button Properties on the shortcut menu.
  3. Click the General tab.
  4. In the Label box, type a label for the button. For example, type Help.
  5. Click Rules.
  6. In the Rules dialog box, click Add.
  7. Click Add Action.
  8. In the Action box, click Switch views.
  9. In the View box, click the name of your Help view that you added in the previous procedure.
  10. Click OK four times to return to the form template.

 Tip   You can optionally add the same controls to the Help view as those contained in the default view. This gives users the choice between filling out the form in the default view if they do not need assistance, or using the Help view to fill out the form if they need to see the Help text instructions.

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Create a custom task pane to show Help

 Notes 

Before you create a custom task pane to display Help in your form template, consider the following:

  • Browser-compatible form templates do not support custom task panes.
  • Before you enable a custom task pane, you must first create an HTML file for the custom task pane by using an HTML editor such as Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer 2007.

To create and enable a custom task pane, do the following:

  1. On the Tools menu, click Form Options.
  2. Under Category, click Programming.
  3. Select the Enable custom task pane check box.
  4. In the Task pane name box, type the name that you want to appear at the top of the custom task pane. For example, type Help.
  5. To add a file to your form template, click Resource Files.

 Note   To link a file to your form template, in the Task pane location box, type the absolute path for the location of the HTML file, and then click OK.

Security  It is recommended that you link to an HTML file that is located in the same domain as your form template. Otherwise, users who open a form that is based on your form template will see an alert.

  1. In the Resource Files dialog box, click Add.
  2. In the Add File dialog box, browse to and select the HTML file that you want, and then click OK.
  3. If the HTML file that you added references additional files, such as cascading style sheets (cascading style sheets (CSS): Declarations, either embedded in a Web page or stored in a separate .css file that is linked to a Web page, that specify the appearance of particular HTML elements.), add those files as well.

 Tip   You can specify only one HTML file to open in the default custom task pane for your form template, but you can add additional HTML files to your form template as resource files, and then create hyperlinks between them.

  1. In the Form Options dialog box, click the name of the HTML file that you just added in the Task pane location box.
  2. To test your changes, click Preview on the Standard toolbar, or press CTRL+SHIFT+B. The custom task pane that you just created should appear by default when you preview the form template.

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Use conditional formatting to show contextual Help

The following procedure describes how to use conditional formatting to show or hide contextual Help.

  1. If the Controls task pane is not visible, click More Controls on the Insert menu, or press ALT+I, C.
  1. In the Controls task pane, click Check Box, and then click Section.
  2. Click in the section that you just added to your form template, and type some Help text.
  3. Delete the default label text for the check box, and then type Click to show or hide Help.
  4. Click the tab for the section on your form template, and then on the Format menu, click Conditional Formatting.
  5. Click Add.
  6. Under If this condition is true, in the first box, click Select a field or group.
  7. In the Select a Field or Group dialog box, select the field that corresponds to the check box control that you added in step 2, and then click OK.
  8. In the second box, in the Conditional Format dialog box, click is equal to.
  9. In the third box, click FALSE.
  10. Under Then apply this formatting, select the Hide this control check box.

 Note   The condition now states that if the check box is selected, the section will be displayed.

  1. To test your changes, click Preview on the Standard toolbar, or press CTRL+SHIFT+B.

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Create a hyperlink to an external Help file or Web site

The following procedure describes how to add a hyperlink from your form template to an external Help file, such as an HTML file or a compiled Help (.chm) file, or to a Web site, such as a technical support Web site.

 Notes 

  • Make sure that the external Help file or Web site that you create a link to is accessible by your users. If you want to add a link to an HTML file in a form template that is compatible with InfoPath only (in other words, users must use InfoPath to fill out forms based on that form template), you can add HTML files to the form template by adding them as resource files that open in a custom task pane. For browser-compatible form template, you should publish the HTML files to a site that is accessible to your users, preferably the same Web site where your form template is located, and create a static hyperlink in your form template that points to the external HTML file.
  • If you decide to use another format for your Help file, such as a .chm file, remember to verify whether the file format that you choose is supported on the operating systems on your users' computers.

Create a static hyperlink to an external file

  1. On the form template, click where you want to insert a hyperlink, or select the text or picture that you want to turn into a hyperlink.
  2. On the Standard toolbar, click Insert Hyperlink  Button image.
  3. Click the General tab.
  4. In the Address box, type the URL that you want to link to.
  5. To change the hyperlink text that appears on the form template, type the text that you want in the Text box.

 Note   If you selected a picture in step 1, this option is unavailable.

  1. To assign a ScreenTip that will appear when a user moves the pointer over the hyperlink, click the Advanced tab, and then in the ScreenTip box, type the text that you want to display.
  2. To test your changes, click Preview on the Standard toolbar, or press CTRL+SHIFT+B.

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Add instructions for users to view the InfoPath Help system

InfoPath includes a dedicated Help system that people can use when they fill out forms. This Help system contains information about common tasks, such as turning on or off AutoComplete and checking the spelling of text in a form. As a form designer, you can open InfoPath Help for form users by pressing F1 when you are previewing a form in the preview window.

Help for form users is limited to tasks that apply to all forms, so it is a good idea to provide custom Help for the form templates that you design. To help your users view the InfoPath Help system when they fill out a form, you can add instructions to your form template that explain how to access the InfoPath Help system. For example, you might include one of the following examples in your form template:

  • To open InfoPath Help, press F1.
  • To open InfoPath Help, click Microsoft Office InfoPath Help on the Help menu.

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Applies to:
InfoPath 2007