RE: Myth vs. reality

Subject: RE: Myth vs. reality
From: "Lisa Wright" <liwright -at- earthlink -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 18 Jul 2002 22:22:23 -0700

I've been thinking about this a lot for the last 24 hours, and it
occurred to me today that I am using the following tools to produce my
current document set (don't laugh):

FrontPage (to do spellcheck of multiple html files)
PaintShop Pro

(I walked into a tool junkie's paradise. I asked for a text editor and
they gave me Dreamweaver with HomeSite on the side!)

The documents I am producing:

* System Administration guide (Word)
* Online Help (Dreamweaver+DevaTools)
* Quick start/shortcut sheets, laminated (PageMaker)
* Training guide for users who will not receive classroom training (2
versions, FrameMaker w/conditional text)
* Training materials for users who will receive classroom training (not
sure yet, they may just get classroom instruction and any docs would be
for me to guide the training). There are four different groups
performing some different functions, some overlapping.

I realized today, as I was in FrameMaker writing the instructions for
opening a record, which I have already written in HTML for the online
help, that this might have been an ideal situation for single-sourcing.
(As an aside to another thread, it also occurred to me that I do all my
writing in WSYWYG tools. I feel handicapped when I can't see what the
level 4 heading looks like as I'm writing.)

Granted, I am mostly playing with these different tools because I can
and I know I have time (this from the woman who for many years produced
fine-looking documentation using Word, PrintScreen, and Paint). I'm
doing the PageMaker thing because the department has some other shortcut
pages in PM, and I haven't used it since version 5 and I thought it
would be good to brush up. I asked for the $200 DevaTools to do the
online help instead of the $1000(?) WWP because I already had
Dreamweaver. Word is for anything the dept wants to maintain without me,
and Frame is from the previous writer.

But, there are some clear inefficiencies as well. Are the instructions
that I wrote for the training guide significantly different from the
ones I wrote for the online help? I certainly hope not, but I'm betting
they are because how I write is affected by the formatting (not to say I
twiddle with it a lot, just that it has an effect). And why did I have
to write it twice? Yes, there were some differences in what I thought
the audience needed to know, but that could've been addressed through
conditional text and some good planning, I'll bet. I was thinking a lot
about Sean's and Bill's posts today as I reviewed my content, looking at
all of it through that lens. I'm guessing that single-sourcing would've
been a pretty good alternative.

As for maintainability, well, as long as these systems stay in their
current department I know that they'll call me. However, these systems
are likely going to be moving to Philadelphia sometime next year (no one
knows for sure). Things are pretty straightforward, but I can just
imagine the person who inherits this saying, "why did that dope use all
these different formats to produce this information? It's not that
complex a system!" And it's not.

As much as I think single-sourcing has value, both it and content
management using databases (if in fact that falls into a different group
at all) scare me a bit, because I don't _know_ how to do the setup part.
I'm a sole writer. I'm experienced and capable at what I do and I'm very
good with tools. So I don't think it's an issue of having the ability to
figure it out. I frequently hear people say that they have to "sell"
their departments on single-sourcing, and that's what scares me. It is
something I'd have to figure out, and what if I mess it up after my
pitch? I also have to admit that multi-sourcing gives me endless
opportunities to fine-tune, to tweak, to play ("I did it this way in the
manual, I think I'll do it like this in the online help"). It lets me
experiment when I'm bored. Now, maybe I should be writing about more
complicated/complex things and I wouldn't get bored. (Yes, writing about
basic software functions can be boring; no, I'm not complaining.)

I wonder if there are any other writers out there who would do it if
they could but they just don't have the experience? I would love to be
able to work for a month (or more, of course) at the beginning of a
project with someone who is experienced in planning and setting up a
single-sourced project. I want to be able to ask questions like, "Yes,
but how does WWP know to generate an index for this but not that?" "How
do you do popups?" "What makes it go?" :-) I'd be like a two-year-old,
asking all my questions.

So, those are the things I've been thinking about. Thoughts?


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Myth vs. reality: From: DowningLst

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