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Get the Most Out of ArcGIS Help

Find the information needed to perform an operation or use a tool more quickly and easily using the tools and resources built into the support documentation for ArcGIS Desktop applications and extensions.

Refine a Basic Search

Using operators with search terms in ArcGIS Desktop Help and ArcGIS Desktop Help Online helps limit search returns to those topics most likely to yield the desired information.

The familiar + and - operators immediately placed before the search term are used for including or excluding terms (e.g., entering "geoprocessing -scripting" will return all topics on geoprocessing but excludes documents containing scripting). To obtain documents that contain any of several terms, use parentheses (e.g., entering "(arcims axl) service" will find documents containing the keywords arcims or axl and the keyword service). Search only on titles by entering "title: ‹search words or phrase›".

When searching ArcGIS Desktop Help, searches can be quickly refined using the three check boxes at the bottom of the Search tab of the navigation pane. These check boxes allow for search by previous results, matching similar words, or search by title only.

Get Help Inside an Application

Quickly find out what a specific tool, button, or menu command does by using the What's This tool in the ArcGIS Desktop Main Menu toolbar. The icon on the What's This tool is a cursor with a question mark. Clicking on it activates a mouse pointer. Position the mouse pointer over a button or menu command, and the name of the item pops up in a small box and a brief description appears in the status bar at the bottom of the application window simultaneously. To get help on a command in a pull-down menu or button in a toolbar, click the What's This tool on the ArcMap or ArcCatalog Standard toolbar, then click the item.

Get help on a command in a context menu by highlighting the command and pressing Shift + F1. To get help on a control in a dialog box, click the button with a question mark icon at the top of the dialog box, then click the control. Some dialog boxes also have About or Help buttons that provide additional information specific to that dialog box. To get help on a window, such as the Table of Contents, click inside the window, then press Shift + F1.

In ArcToolbox, directly access online Help for each tool and toolbox by right-clicking on the item and choosing Help from the context menu. When the Show Help button is clicked in each tool dialog box, the right pane of the dialog box provides additional information such as an overall description of the tool or documentation on input parameters for that tool.

Use Keyboard Shortcuts

Many keyboard shortcuts built into ArcGIS Desktop are similar to keyboard shortcuts used by other Windows applications. The accompanying table lists some keyboard shortcuts specific to ArcGIS Desktop that may be useful.

Access Online Help

click to enlargeTake advantage of the most current version of ArcGIS Desktop documentation by accessing ArcGIS Desktop Help Online. Help topics are organized to make information on common tasks or help for a specific application, extension, or functionality readily accessible. The site's index page includes a list of hot topics, and each topic page contains a link for providing feedback. All the entries under a topic can be printed in one step by choosing the "Print all topics in:" link from the top of any help entry page under that topic. This choice will open a new browser window listing summaries of all topics selected for printing. Access ArcGIS Desktop Help Online directly from the Help menu on the ArcMap or ArcCatalog interface or by going to

Use the Esri Software Documentation Library

Digital versions of the books that accompany ArcGIS, in Adobe PDF format, are available from the Esri Online Support Center. Choose Product Documentation for each software type. These books also come in the ArcGIS Desktop Media Kit and when installed are located in ‹installation directory›\Esri_Library). User manuals for ArcGIS Desktop, the ArcGIS Desktop extensions, and ArcIMS and books on developing with ArcObjects and managing data with ArcGIS are included in the software documentation library.

Part of Help SystemTaskKey Combination
Help ViewerSwitch between navigation pane and topic pane.F6
Help ViewerFind specific text in the current topic.Ctrl + F
Help ViewerCycle through tabs in the navigation pane.Alt + C (Contents Tab);
Alt + N (Index Tab);
Alt + S (Search Tab);
Alt + I (Favorites Tab)
On the Index TabDisplay the associated topic.Alt + D
On the Search TabDisplay the selected topic.Alt + D
On the Favorites TabAdd a topic to the Favorites list.Alt + A while on the Favorites Tab
Useful keyboard shortcuts

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