Single sourcing tools?

Subject: Single sourcing tools?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 22 Feb 2002 11:41:13 -0500

Jessica Nealon wonders: <<why is RoboHelp not a viable single-source
solution if you need to produce print or PDF as one of the outputs?>>

Technology issues aside, the problem is that you simply can't write the same
way for online information as you would write for print. There are obvious
problems: for example, in print, you should refer readers to related topics
by page number in cross-references (so they don't have to waste time looking
up the page number in a table of contents), whereas the online equivalent
would be a hyperlink. Obviously, hyperlinks don't contain page numbers, and
can't be dumped into print without sacrificing ease of access, and page
numbers in a printed manual don't automatically become hyperlinks when you
move it online.

There are also less obvious problems. For example, online information
typically comes in topic-sized chunks, with no explicit relationship between
these chunks unless you include a "site map" or similar tool that expresses
the relationships between topics. In print, the topics follow a linear
sequence simply because you've grouped topics into chapters or sections
based on similarities; this grouping defines the relationships for readers.
A structure designed to support online topics provides none of the linkages
that are important in printed material, and thus can't be simply printed and
used as a print manual. Conversely, a printed manual makes assumptions about
what readers have already seen or can easily see (e.g., the previous
sections in a chapter) that may not hold true in the online version; for
example, you may reach a topic via an online index or search or
context-sensitive help without ever knowing that there are other related
topics, whereas in print, simply flipping backwards or forwards a few pages
reveals these relationships.

There are also philosophical differences. A printed manual inherently lacks
context-sensitivity. For example, when you have a dialog box open, you can't
simply click a help button to turn the printed manual to the right page--but
in online help, users must be able to do this. Because such online help is
tied closely to the dialog box rather than the overall task the reader is
trying to accomplish, it fails to provide overview or contextual task
information that would be present in a printed manual. (Which is why I
always include topics in my help files that provide high-level overviews of
the components of tasks: that way, those who don't know the overall task can
find out about it, while those who know the overall task but need help
specific to a dialog box have access to the context-sensitive help.)

In short, the problem is that the two media require different approaches,
and you must design information specifically for each medium to get the most
effective result. There are ways to accomplish this if you start out by
planning to create separate but related information for each medium, but you
can neither design a pure online help system and print it nor design a pure
printed manual and dump it online without sacrificing many of the benefits
of each medium. RoboHelp doesn't explicitly support the more effective
approach, and thus, doesn't lend itself well to single-sourcing without lots
of awkward kludges or manual labor.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a
personality, and an obnoxious one at that."-Kim Roper

Now's a great time to buy RoboHelp! You'll get SnagIt screen capture
software and a $200 onsite training voucher FREE when you buy RoboHelp
Office or RoboHelp Enterprise. Hurry, this offer expires February 28, 2002.

You are currently subscribed to techwr-l as: archive -at- raycomm -dot- com
To unsubscribe send a blank email to leave-techwr-l-obscured -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Send administrative questions to ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.

Previous by Author: Single sourcing tools (WAS Questions about Doc to Help and RoboHe lp?)
Next by Author: Dangling modifiers?
Previous by Thread: Re: Dangling Modifiers
Next by Thread: Dangling modifiers?

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads