RE: Queries on Single Sourcing

Subject: RE: Queries on Single Sourcing
From: Maritza van den Heuvel <MaritzaV -at- stt-global -dot- com>
To: " (TECHWR-L -at- LISTS -dot- RAYCOMM -dot- COM)" <TECHWR-L -at- LISTS -dot- RAYCOMM -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 13 Feb 2004 22:30:31 +0200

I posted a reply to this thread a few hours ago, but it bounced because I
had neglected to cut the footers of your original post in this regard -
silly me for being in too much of a hurry! Anyway, since then Bill Swallow,
Mailing List and Dick Margulis, to name but a few, have eloquently summed up
exactly what single-sourcing is and should attempt to achieve.

Although the level of information engineering some single-source
documentation designs display seems like an overcomplicated overkill, I'd
really be in s**t street right now if it weren't for single-sourcing!

I'm the single technical writer for a smallish development firm in the
software simulations field. Our firm may be small, but our flagship product
is huge. The beta build for our biggest release to date came out last week
and I'm in the process of finalising a total of 9 help files (for various
applications that make up the suite and offer different functionality
depending on the module you have registered) and three printed manuals - an
authoring guide, a reference guide and the installation guide. All on pretty
tough deadlines (I wear a couple of other hats around here, too, including
developing some of the resources utilised by the product). If I weren't
using a database-driven single-sourcing tool I would have gone stark raving
mad by now.

Yes, it takes time to chunk my information properly, and to always think of
how and where I can embed existing material instead of writing new chunks
from scratch. Also, thanks to the content vs. format split advocated and
followed by single-sourcing tools, I can really focus on the content and
worry about the format once the content is done, or inbetween, when I want
to take a break from writing. I don't have to bother with importing and
converting formats and tweaking until the cows come home to get the desired
effect in the final outputs. I let the output templates (some of which I've
customised or am in the process of customising) take care of that for me.

That is the beauty of single-sourcing for me!

Maritza van den Heuvel
Technical Writer

Software Training Technology (Pty) Limited

-----Original Message-----
From: lyndsey -dot- amott -at- docsymmetry -dot- com [mailto:lyndsey -dot- amott -at- docsymmetry -dot- com]
Sent: 13 February 2004 10:04
Subject: Re: Queries on Single Sourcing

Lindsey wrote:

Ack! I am now ready to go back to being a Luddite.

This reminds me of a company I worked for where each R&D group had its own
techwriter(s). One group had rather a lot of writers compared to the other
groups and it was lead by a guy who described himself in hushed tones as
"not a technical writer, but a Documentation Architect."

This guy had implemented in his group a system such as you describe. The
idea was that you could re-use any chunk of text, assuming that you could
find it in the huge repository. In fact, writers were required to look for
it in the repository, whether it was there or not. The fact that, when and
if it was found, it had to be tweaked, and the fact that I have rarely
re-used an untweaked chunk of text in my entire career, and the fact that if

he got hit by a bus no one would be able to figure the system out seemed to
be lost on him. He had set up this system, and by g-d, people were going to
use it. Aside from the people in his group who hadn't fled to other
departments, and aside from all the powerful people in the company who are
always impressed by the word "automation," all the other writers in R&D
dreaded the possibility that the powers that be would implement his system
throughout the company.

Call me wishy-washy, but I'm a Luddite again. I can see how single-sourcing
would work for the help, training, and manuals, etc. in a single project,
but to try to make it work over more than one project sounds like a complete

waste of effort and a form of bureaucratic abuse.

Lyndsey Amott
Winnipeg, MB R3G 2J3


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