Re: Single Sourcing - Myth or Salvation?

Subject: Re: Single Sourcing - Myth or Salvation?
From: "Colleen Strahs" <colleen -dot- strahs -at- divine -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 13 Mar 2002 15:29:59 -0600

I'm probably chiming in a little late, but I get the digest...

I've been single-sourcing for 5 years, at two different companies. I learned
at SPSS, which is a large company with a very rigid, established
documentation process. They were translating big manuals and help into, at
minimum, 3 different languages per product. The cost savings were

Now I'm a lone tech writer supporting a rather large client-server
application, and I still think it provides huge time savings for creating
end-user documentation. (I do not single-source my sys admin guide or
developer's guide.)

True single-sourcing is demanding on the writer. You have to be disciplined
enough to stick to a rigid template. You have to write a book-- well
organized, with obvious organizational structure and clear transitions. But
you also have to chunk appropriately, index thoroughly, and spend some time
on your help system. Just because you're single-sourcing does *not* mean
that the two outputs should be identical. I use conditional text judiciously
to take out forecasting statements and transitions that are meaningless in
online help. I add cross-references ("see also" lists) for online help. I
also rearrange my help TOC to make it more task-focused.

All this takes more time than simply writing a book, but it takes less time
than writing a book and then selectively copying/pasting or otherwise
converting to online help. (Or worse, writing online help and then
concatenating the topics into a "book".) And if you have to translate into
multiple languages (I'm not, yet!), the time/cost savings are even greater.

I use Frame + WWP. I produce online output in JSP (HTML plus some custom
tags) and MS HTML Help, for two client apps (one web-based and the other
Windows native) plus a web-based "admin" app common to both clients. I can
use the same source files for info that is common to both clients. I just
substitute a different WWP project file for each output type. This alone is
a huge advantage of single-sourcing. There's no way I could manage these
different output types otherwise.

Company size-- XLarge, but my own division is under 100 people.

Colleen McKenna Strahs
Documentation Architect
divine MindAlign
Burlington, MA

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