RE: Tool for dynamic, customized documentation

Subject: RE: Tool for dynamic, customized documentation
From: Sean Hower <hokumhome -at- freehomepage -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 25 Jul 2003 07:19:56 -0700 (PDT)

Dannette Thompson asked:
I'd like to present the user some sort of screen where they can check the boxes of each tool they've purchased. That would either "build" the documentation or at least point them to the document/page/screen/etc that has the correct order of steps.

This sounds like a job for <heroicMusic>XML</heroicMusic>!!!

What you can do is create all of your content in a single XML file, and either manually create a variety of XSLs that display each of your possible combinations, or use JavaScript to pick out the info. You could create a single HTML page (such as a welcome page) that asks the user for their software setup information. You can just use checkboxes as input and tie a function to each of the checkboxes that spits out the XML into a browser when the checkbox is selected. All you would need for this (since this was a tool question) is notepad. Of course, if you do this. You'll probably have to rely on your users using IE mostly because Netscape and IE handle XSL processing slightly differently and if you write the xsl for one, it won't work the same way on the other (at least that's the way it was a little while ago, I haven't looked into working with XML on Netscape since so this situation might have changed).

Another possibility is to create a set of high-level how-tos for each of the possible software combinations, and then have links to separate topics for each of the sub-processes within a high-level how-to. This would limit your work to creating the possible combinations, and creating your core how-tos. You could then reuse the core how-tos for each high-level how-to as needed. I've used this technique a couple of times and it works pretty well. Again, since this is a tool question, all you would need is notepad.

Of course, these solutions require a bit of JavaScript, HTML, XML and/or XSL/T ability.

In addition, I would like them to be able to type in custom information
such as their "live date" and have that populate various spots in the docs.
Again, this can be accomplished with JavaScript and HTML. Simply make a form. If you end up using XML, you can have your users populate an XML document with their custom information.

"And in the morning, I'm makin waffles." ~ Donkey
Sean Hower - tech writer

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