RE: Single-sourcing = myth? (v-LONG)

Subject: RE: Single-sourcing = myth? (v-LONG)
From: "Michael Hoffman (S&T Onsite)" <a-mihoff -at- microsoft -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 18 Jul 2002 08:01:32 -0700

Some myths may have been started by consultants who wanted to sell their
specialize expertise and techniques for online help. I'd rather see
consultants selling their single-sourcing expertise. Single-sourcing
skills are a superset of Help development skills. Many of the myths are
due to tools limitations. Technical writing notions about document
design have been influenced by tools limitations.

Please see my in-depth coverage of this subject. I need a better title for the site,
emphasizing universal document design for rapid knowledge transfer,
rather than emphasizing hypertext or online documents. The central
article is -- Enabling
extremely rapid navigation in your web or document. I could imagine
repositioning the entire site around single-sourcing. I like the
subject of single-sourcing because it encompasses so much -- I consider
it the conceptual and intellectual apex of technical writing.

The above article gets to the core of the matter, though what's probably
missing the most is discussion of conditional text for navigation
elements and title pages. I'm glad to hear there's a single-sourcing
SIG. I've long thought that single-sourcing is the most important and
overarching subject in the profession of technical writing, because it
draws in all the document-design considerations of print and online
help. There are challenges and limitations to single-sourcing. Many of
these are actually tools limitations; they could be solved through
further improvements of the tools.

The technical writing industry overemphasized surface bells and whistles
(adding hundreds of features on top of a weak document-design
foundation) rather than fundamental structures such as single-sourcing
puts on center stage. Single-sourcing is the key to document design
theory; if you understand single-sourcing, you understand structured
print design and structured online-document design. The heart of
single-sourcing is *document design theory* and I'd sure like to see
much more discussion of this subject, not only day-to-day tools
troubleshooting questions.

At some point, the single-sourcing tools may cross a threshold and
enlighten the industry about document design. It's especially important
that the tool developers understand document design mapping between Help
and print.

What's missing is a standard vocabulary to describe source-file length,
scrolling length, and inline subtopics. Currently the weakest link in
the chain is weak support for authoring and using anchored subheadings
(<h2><a/></h2>) from Contents, Search, and Index. The conventional
notion of a "Help topic" is oversimplistic; we need a design framework
that includes rich structure within a topic -- inline subheadings and
inline subtopics.

-- Michael Hoffman

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