In our applications, the users are going through plenty of screens filling out form fields and selecting various options from dropdowns, radio buttons, etc. Because of this, we currently house one section for all of the help text that changes based on the field they are in. If the user errors something, the error text is also in this help text area.
On various sites, I have also seen an additional concept which shows small question/help icons next to each and every form field and ui control. (pictured below).
Does there seem to be a trend towards this second idea and is there a preferred standard between the two of them? I could see some advantages/disadvantages of each one. Leaving the help text area locked in place, say a corner of the screen, takes up more real estate and I would think that once the user leaves the status of "beginner user" and moves to an "intermediate user", most of the help text is probably irrelevant for them and they would probably need it only on some of the fields. But while it does take up a little more real estate, there is the possible visual clutter, no matter how much you tone it down, of putting help icons next to almost each and every field/control on the screen. There is also the issue of do you make the help "tip" an onClick or an onHover. My gut would tell me the onClick since the user may want to keep it up a few seconds to help them fill out their field vs remembering what it said. But the benefit of doing it in this second concept, utilizing the help icons near each control/form field, I could see where they only click on the help "tip" when they absolutely need it.