Re: On-Line Vs. Print, Single-Sourcing, and how to ignore the obvious

Subject: Re: On-Line Vs. Print, Single-Sourcing, and how to ignore the obvious
From: bill -dot- hall -at- hotkey -dot- net -dot- au
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 3 Aug 2002 17:2:34

Part of the problem with this debate is that most people think of
"single-sourcing" in a way that is limited by technologies for managing
conditional texts in a single master document. However, there is much more
to it than conditional texts.

To me the ideal authoring system is one that allows us to reuse content
(write once, use many times) wherever that reuse is appropriate. With
proper tools, that includes the capability of assembling reusable elements
of text containing replaceable variables into higher levels of "virtual"
documents it becomes quite feasible to manage the common information from
single source locations and keep different what needs to be different from
the user's point of view.

Tenix already uses a high-end (costly) content management system, TeraText
(used to be known as SIM) - which provides content
validation, electronic delivery, and a number of other unique requirements
we had to meet to deliver maintenance routines for the fleet of ANZAC
Frigates. However, to meet the requirements of the ANZAC Ship Project, SIM
was not implemented in a way that makes it flexible for other document
types. Our implementation only used SIM's ability to manage conditional
texts in single master documents (i.e., to track the configurations of 10
different ships and the language differences of two different countries
using the ships).

More recently we encountered another completely independent product also
developed in Melbourne, SpeedLegal's SmartPrecedent
( This was originally developed for legal
documentation that also provides very significant reuse capabilities in a
Web-based environment. This is an XML-based authoring environment that
over a WebDAV compliant database, and that supports a component (i.e.,
"clause") library of reusable elements. SmartPrecedent includes the
capability to manage all kinds of logical sub-elements either in the
"precedent" document or in any of the reusable elements. In its
capabilities to manage logically controlled content, SmartPrecedent is way
ahead of conditional text tools like FrameMaker and Epic Editor - given
that no programming is required to build the document assembly logic. (The
product is designed to be used by lawyers, who are not technically

Given that the application was developed by legally trained developers,
their first market was standardised contracts. Tenix is implementing the
system in the legal area for common types of contracts (e.g.,
non-disclosure agreements), but we are also testing it in the tech doc
area. Unlike TeraText, which is a high-end content indexing, management and
web delivery system, SmartPrecedent offers few management functions and is
priced at a level that should be cost effective for 1-2 person shops that
produce documentation with high levels of redundancy and have the
capabilities to deal with XML.

The conclusion (that I have argued previously with Andrew Plato on this
forum) is that new technologies are (and will increasingly radically)
changing the way we write. Technical writers need to understand these
changes. They won't go away because writers don't want to change the way
they right. The new technologies help those that adopt the tools reduce
costs and deliver better results. What shouldn't change (and here I
totally agree with Andrew) is that this technology should focus totally on
giving the end reader the necessary information presented in a way that is
correct, appropriate and usable by that reader.

Bill Hall
Documentation Systems Analyst
Strategy and Development
Tenix Defence
Williamstown, Vic. 3016
mailto:bill -dot- hall -at- tenix -dot- com
Information is not knowledge
Knowledge is not wisdom
Wisdom is not truth
Truth is not beauty
Beauty is not love
Love is not music
Music is THE BEST
(Zappa - Packard Goose)

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