Tips and Tricks for Finding Help in the MSDN Library

Hi, I’m Elona and I work for Julie. These are just a few tips and tricks for finding the content you need in the MSDN Library. I didn’t make these up either. This is how I really find things.

  1. Use the Index. Search relies on an algorithm to find what you’re looking for and depending on the search term you use, the results can be overwhelming. In the Index, class names, method names, and so on are automatically indexed. But, pretty much all other index content is hand-authored by writers and editors. So what you’re basically seeing is a pared-down list of the content we thought you’d be looking for.
  2. There’s still too much in the Index? Use a filter. Filters are a pretty useful feature, but most people I talk to don’t know they’re out there. Filters scope the documentation shown in the table of contents, search and the index to a smaller sub-set of documentation. For example, there are filters for Visual C#, .NET Framework, and even Visual Studio Team System. Filters are only available in the local docs, so you have to have installed the MSDN Library on your machine and be using local help. To access filters, Open the Index window from the Help menu in Visual Studio. The list of available filters is shown under Filtered by.
  3. Use the advanced search of your favorite search engine to search MSDN. Most search engines allow you to scope your search to a particular Web site. Try using the search engine to scope the search to msdn.microsoft.com (or msdn2.microsoft.com for Beta 2 docs).
  4. Once you find a topic you like, see what’s around it. We did a usability study once and found that almost no one uses the table of contents to find what they’re looking for in the docs. Unfortunately, this is one of the BEST ways to find things. So here’s a useful trick. When you find one topic via search or index, use the sync contents button to find out what’s around it. Writers tend to organize their topics like a book, even though you never see it in book form. That means that if you find one topic that’s pretty close to what you need, it’s likely that the topic you do need is above it or below it in the TOC. In local help, this button () is called Sync with Table of Contents and is in the toolbar. On MSDN Online, this the sync toc button () located at the top of the Table of Contents.
  5. Ask someone who knows. This sounds sort of basic, but there are lots of resources out there for asking questions and there are a lot of people waiting to answer those questions. Some of the best resources are blogs (like this one or Rob Caron’s) and forums (like the Visual Studio Developer Documentation and Help System forum or any Team System forum). Most of the writers are either forum moderators (I moderate Visual Studio Team Edition for Software Architects, for example.) or they read the forums regularly.