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Subject:Single source for tasks (was Re: any cons...? From:"Tim Altom" <taltom -at- simplywritten -dot- com> To:"TechDoc List" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com> Date:Fri, 18 Feb 2000 08:09:04 -0500
We, too, encounter the debate of "why should I print and help at the same
We tend to promote a task-oriented approach to most manuals. Users, after
all, aren't generally fascinated with whizbangs; they want to know how to do
a job. Some prefer a paper manual, if only because it feels comfortable.
Others want the speed and simplicity of help files.
In most task environments (and software usually falls here), it's fully
appropriate to focus on tasks and steps. For that, single source is not only
possible and appropriate, but marvelous. There's no problem publishing to
both paper and hyperspace, because there's little penalty for doing so. In
true single source, you don't tweak the outputs, only the parent document.
We feel that many tech writers get caught up in long explanations that the
average user neither needs nor wants. The explanations blur and hide the
essential information the user is looking for, leading to the complaints of
"I couldn't find anything!"
This depends, of course, on the product and the user, so don't leap back at
me unnecessarily. I'm talking here about the center of the bell-shaped
curve. In such an environment, it's entirely possible to create single
source documents and, indeed, it's possible (using Clustar or some other
system) to install it and have it up and running within a couple of weeks.
Those who adhere to a "river rafting" approach to manuals will find single
source to be nightmarish. Manuals that require huge amounts of explanation
will also be poor candidates. There are tradeoffs required, just as there
are in any human enterprise. If you want efficiency and speed, you trade off
artistry, license, and inefficiency.
Simply Written, Inc.
Featuring FrameMaker and the Clustar Method(TM)
"Better communication is a service to mankind."
Check our Web site for the upcoming Clustar class info http://www.simplywritten.com