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We have a long-established application which has, over the years, included more and more commands (some of which are contradictory) with the consequence that users now find it very hard to create the required input command file. There are separate PDF Help manuals for the umpteen variants of the app's use, but these show commands listed alphabetically, rather than by purpose.

To address this, I am designing a knowledge-based tool to help users create this command file through a Q&A dialogue - sort of like a Wizard, but more of an Expert System. Here you can see that as the user has chosen the 'Blah blah' from the dropdown, the tool has entered the command on his behalf on the right:

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Alongside each question is a Help icon - this brings up relevant Help extracted from the manuals for each command (the Lorem ipsum text as shown).

You can see that within that text, links to other commands may be embedded; some of which may refer to points in the dialogue which have already been covered, but - and this is the problem - some may refer to places ahead (i.e. we're at Stage 1, but there's a reference to Stage 55).

So the problem I'd appreciate some advice on is, how should this 'future' Help be shown? Should I display a popup with that future Help in it (but of course that itself may include links)? Or should I allow the user to visit that future place so that he can just read its Help (even follow its links), and then somehow be brought back?

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This is a tough one simply because you don't want the users getting thrown all over the place, and navigating to unnecessary areas that may not be related. The system itself seems like it is a really good idea. The solution I have may be something you have thought of, but make sure you are making keywords a big part of the help and "future" help. I see no reason to stop a user from looking ahead and reading but only if it has relevant material to what they currently need help with. So in turn, let them go on to the future help (even follow the links). Just make sure you constantly have a link available to take them back to where they were and make sure that the future material appearing is related to the help that they require. Hope this helped.

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