How to Write Cmdlet Help

Windows PowerShell cmdlets can be useful, but unless your help topics clearly explain what the cmdlet does and how to use it, the cmdlet may not get used or, even worse, it might frustrate users. The XML-based cmdlet Help file format enhances consistency, but great help requires much more.

If you have never written cmdlet Help, review the following guidelines. The XML schema required to author the cmdlet Help topic is described in the following section. Start with Creating the Cmdlet Help File. That topic includes a description of the top-level XML nodes.

Writing Guidelines for Cmdlet Help

The following is a list of guidelines to help you write great cmdlet Help.

  • Write well. Nothing replaces a well-written topic. If you are not a professional writer, find a writer or editor to help you. Another alternative is to copy your Help text into Microsoft Word and use the grammar and spelling checks to improve your work.

  • Write simply. Use simple words and phrases. Avoid jargon. Consider that many readers are equipped only with a foreign-language dictionary and your Help topic.

  • Write consistently. Help for related cmdlets should be similar (for example, get-x and set-x). Use the standard descriptions for standard parameters, like Force and InputObject. (Copy them from Help for the core cmdlets.) Use standard terms. For example, use "parameter", not "argument", and use "cmdlet" not "command" or "command-let."

  • Start the synopsis with a verb. The synopsis field informs the user what the cmdlet does, not what it is or how it works. Verbs create a task-based statement that informs users if this cmdlet meets their requirements. Use simple verbs like "get", "create", and "change." Avoid "set", which can be vague and fancy words like "modify".

  • Focus on objects. Most "get" cmdlets display something, but their primary function is to get an object. In your Help, focus on the object, so that users understand that the default display is one of many, and that they can use the methods and properties of the object that you retrieved for them in different ways.

  • Write detailed descriptions. Briefly list everything that the cmdlet can do in the detailed description. If the main function is to change one property, but the cmdlet can change all properties, list this in the detailed description.

  • Use conventional syntax. Use the standard Backus-Naur format which is common for Windows and UNIX command-line Help.

  • Use Microsoft .NET Framework types for parameter values. The placeholders for parameter values (in the syntax and parameter descriptions) show the .NET Framework types of the objects that the parameter will accept. The Windows PowerShell team developed this convention to help teach users about the .NET Framework.

  • Write complete parameter descriptions. Parameter descriptions must inform users of two things: what the parameter does (its effect) and what they must type for the parameter values.

  • Write practical examples. The examples should show how to use all of the parameters, but the most important thing is to show how to use the cmdlet in real-world tasks. Start with a simple example and write increasingly complex examples. In the final example, show how to use the cmdlet in a pipeline.

  • Use the Notes field. Use the Notes field to explain concepts that users need to understand the cmdlet. You can also use notes to help users avoid common errors. Avoid URLs as they change. Instead, provide users terms to search for.

  • Test your Help. Test the Help just like you test your code. Have friends and colleagues read your Help content and provide feedback. You can also solicit feedback from newsgroups.

See Also

Footer image

Send comments about this topic to Microsoft.

Show: