Help menu on the Apple Mac: Tips for practical use

Depending on the program you are running, the menu bar at the top of the Apple Mac screen is sometimes more or less full. A menu that is almost always displayed and is usually on the far right is the help menu. This guide is about this most overlooked but often very helpful menu. There are numerous examples of the practical application of the help and its individual sub-points. The same applies to the main menu items: the scope can vary depending on the app. But the search field is always there and always helpful.

The help menu waits inconspicuously at the top of the screen to be used. Depending on the app, there are countless possible uses.
The help menu waits inconspicuously at the top of the screen to be used. Depending on the app, there are countless possible uses.

Where and what is the help menu?

If you're new to using an Apple Mac or have not yet explored the macOS menu bar for other reasons, now is the time. If you have accessed this article on your Mac, then look at the top of the screen, where you should see the Apple logo on the far left. If you let your gaze wander to the right from there, you will eventually arrive at the help menu. 

So the “Where?” would be clarified. Now to “What?”: The Help menu is a good starting point for both the Finder (and thus general macOS usage) and for individual apps to access the documentation of the software used. Depending on the app, sometimes there is only the search function (see below) and one or two pieces of information about the app version or the like. Sometimes there are also numerous points that can lead to the functional overview of the current version, to help forums, to instructions and video tutorials and much more.

Scope of various help menus: Affinity Photo 2 (left), Pages (middle) and Safari (right).
Scope of various help menus: Affinity Photo 2 (left), Pages (middle) and Safari (right).

What's new in the current app version

If you've ever updated an Apple app like Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Music or the like, then the first time you open it after this update you will probably have seen an overlay with the most important new features. You can simply close this to continue regular use of the app. But if you want to call up the overview again, this is definitely possible. As shown in the screenshot above this paragraph, there is an item in the Pages help menu called “New features in Pages”. And this calls up exactly the window that you clicked away after the update.

But third-party apps can also offer such a menu item. The developers do not have to install their own feature window, which then appears as a popup. It can also simply be a link that leads to the app website or its subpage with the current version number. That's exactly how things are handled at Affinity Photo. In the menu comparison shown above you will find the “New” item for this app. This leads to the Affinity website about the current version and its new content.

Open the manual with instructions and tips

If you want to get to know a new program, you should look in its help menu for its manual. Not all apps offer it this way, but at least many Apple apps do. If we stick with the Pages example, then to document the app in its help menu, click on the first item “Pages Help”. This opens the Pages manual for Mac, which can now be navigated using the table of contents, links and search bar. A good way to look up specific features and usage options. This also works in apps like Mail, Photos, Music, Freeform and so on.

Help for Mac operation can be accessed in two ways

You can also use the Help menu to search for tips and instructions for the macOS operating system - not just for a single app. This can be done in two different ways:

  1. Go to Desktop or open a Finder window so that it says “Finder” to the right of the Apple logo. Then click on “Help” and then select “macOS Help”. This will take you to the macOS manual for the version of the system you are using (e.g. macOS 14 Sonoma).
  2. If you are currently using an Apple app (e.g. Music or Pages) and the menu bar is adapted to the same, you do not necessarily have to switch to Finder to use macOS help. Simply call up the “Music Help”, “Pages Help” or another manual via “Help”. Then enter what you are looking for in its search field. Scroll down in the results list - the macOS results will also be displayed after the app-specific results.
You can access the macOS manual via the Finder's Help menu. You can use the search function in the Apple app manuals to find system-wide settings.
You can access the macOS manual via the Finder's Help menu. You can use the search function in the Apple app manuals to find system-wide settings.

Locating other menu bar items

A very important and extremely practical option for using the Help menu is its search bar. In these you can e.g. B. Enter functions that the currently running program should carry out. The input does not result in immediate execution, but it does display the corresponding element in the menu bar. This means: the appropriate menu is opened and an arrow marks exactly the menu item that you should click on for the function you are looking for. To actually execute it, you can now click on this or the search result.

In the screenshot below you can see how I looked for a way to add a section to the table of contents of my Pages document. If you don't know that you can get to "Section" via the Insert menu and then via "Table of Contents", you can simply use the search in the Help menu. Here I typed “Section” and moved the mouse cursor to “Table of Contents > Section”. The insert menu opened automatically and a marker (white in the screenshot) showed the correct sub-item.

Other menu items can be found using the search field in the help menu. You execute the function by clicking on either the search result or the highlighted menu item.
Other menu items can be found using the search field in the help menu. You execute the function by clicking on either the search result or the highlighted menu item.

If you don't just need the menu item you're looking for once, but have to use it again and again, then this is a useful procedure: Don't execute the option by clicking on the search result. Instead, close the menus and call up the previously marked point again manually without searching for help. This will help you internalize where the option you are looking for is so that you can find it again later on your own.

Keyboard shortcut for the Help area of ​​the macOS menu bar

Instead of using the mouse to click on “Help” in the menu bar, you can also call up the menu using a practical keyboard shortcut: command+Shift+7 (⌘⇧7). This key combination seems to be chosen quite randomly. However, it only makes little sense due to the lack of localization from the US original to the German keyboard. Because on the US QWERTY keyboard you type command+Shift+slash (⌘⇧/) to open the help menu.

On the QWERTY keyboard for English-speaking regions, the shortcut makes sense: command and question mark.
On the QWERTY keyboard for English-speaking regions, the shortcut makes sense: command and question mark.

Since the slash is the primary assignment of the corresponding key and the question mark is the secondary assignment, you call up the “question mark command”. And the question mark generally stands for a question or a need for help. For international use, ⌘⇧/ was adopted, which means ⌘⇧7 when translated to the German QWERTZ keyboard. Here the shortcut has nothing to do with the question mark.

In principle, the same shortcut is used on the QWERTZ keyboard for German-speaking regions, but the different positioning of the slash means that no mnemonic can be created.
In principle, the same shortcut is used on the QWERTZ keyboard for German-speaking regions, but the different positioning of the slash means that no mnemonic can be created.

You can view and, if necessary, change the key combination for the help menu below Apple logo -> System settings ... -> Keyboard -> Keyboard shortcuts… -> App keyboard shortcuts -> All programs. You can also check there whether you have deactivated or changed the key combination if it does not work as described above.

The keyboard shortcut for calling up the help menu doesn't work or you want to change it? In both cases you should stop by here.
The keyboard shortcut for calling up the help menu doesn't work or you want to change it? In both cases you should stop by here.

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In the Sir Apfelot Blog you will find advice, instructions and reviews on Apple products such as the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, iMac, Mac Pro, Mac Mini and Mac Studio.

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