TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Anne Allaire Burke wondered: <<... what people think of single
sourcing. I am on the fence about it -- leaning heavily towards not
yet convinced that it "works" for all documentation types.>>
In theory, SS does indeed work for all documentation types. In
practice, the difficulty that often prevents success lies in two areas:
defining what you really mean by "single-sourcing", and defining what
needs you're trying to meet. Misunderstanding either area produces
<<For example, I don't like the idea of converting my hardcopy user
guide into an identical online version.>>
That's not SS; it's shovelware. SS is about writing material that
should be identical (e.g., the description of the contents of a field
or the meaning of a checkbox) only once, then reusing it everywhere
where that same information would be appropriate. Since you'll present
the same information in the same way in both locations, you can reuse
that information rather than having to write different (and potentially
contradictory) chunks of info. for each use.
SS is also about providing alternatives to that otherwise identical
information where reusing identical information would be inappropriate.
For example, if you're single sourcing a chunk of content for both a
Wizard (or similar computerized assistance) and a printed manual, the
Wizard might replace a screenshot equipped with callout arrows with a
circle drawn around each relevant interface item, in sequence, to point
out what the user must do next. The same information is pointed to in
the same sequence, but in very different ways.
<<I feel that online documentation (Help, etc.) is used and learned
differently (from the user perspective) than it's hardcopy
Unquestionably. Among other things, online help is always contextual
(the right help appears for each specific context), whereas printed
matter is noncontextual (i.e., you have to seek out relevant topics
rather than having them automatically presented to you). There are
other differences, such as the fact that poorly designed online help
usually competes with the software for control of your screen whereas a
printed manual lies outside the screen, but it's the contextual aspect
that is probably most significant.
Another thing to keep in mind: Both online help and printed docs are
inherently unsatisfactory because they take the user out of their task
(getting something accomplished), and replace that with a new task
(finding information). There's a growing move towards embedded
assistance which provides as much help as possible directly within the
interface so that users leave their actual task as rarely as possible.
This is difficult to single-source in the traditional sense, because it
ties more tightly to the interface, but it can still be done with
thought and care.
--Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
WEBWORKS FINALDRAFT: New! Document review system for Word and FrameMaker
authors. Automatic browser-based drafts with unlimited reviewers. Full
online discussions -- no Web server needed! http://www.webworks.com/techwr-l
You are currently subscribed to techwr-l as:
archiver -at- techwr-l -dot- com
To unsubscribe send a blank email to leave-techwr-l-obscured -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Send administrative questions to lisa -at- techwr-l -dot- com -dot- Visit http://www.techwr-l.com/techwhirl/ for more resources and info.