Single Sourcing using Word, RoboHelp, and PPT?

Subject: Single Sourcing using Word, RoboHelp, and PPT?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 02 Nov 2005 18:19:46 -0500

Ashaki Hamlett wondered: <<Current situation: The Training department creates classroom materials, online tutorials, and presentations. The classroom materials and online tutorials are identical in content, but published in different mediums (Word and RoboHelp respectively). Some of the content found in the classroom material and online tutorial is also found in the presentation. Three different people create the three above-mentioned documents. For obvious reasons, this solution isn't the best. Therefore, I proposed we try another solution.>>

Messy situation. What you're really looking for is one source file that you can use to generate multiple products. Unfortunately, none of the products you're using handles all three formats elegantly. The solution may be to think a bit outside the box. Specifically:

<<Proposed Solution: - Write content in Word in the outline view and this document serves as your source file>>

So far, so good. This gives you a single source file with really good tools for writing and revision.

<<- From the source file, use the Send to PPT feature to generate presentation (once in PPT, apply template for appropriate styles and format)>>

Something that you'd think would work, but as of Office XP (and possibly later), Word and Powerpoint simply don't speak the same language. The "send" feature works appallingly poorly, and this means that you'll waste a lot of time reformatting the Powerpoint file. Getting text out of Powerpoint and back into Word is also a pain in the ASCII.

As well, Powerpoint imposes significant limitations on how you produce presentations; Edward Tufte exaggerated when he (paraphrasing here <g>) compared Powerpoint to the crack cocaine of software, but he had some very good points, and Powerpoint really does have severe limitations. Moreover, if you focus on Powerpoint, you miss some better options for presentations.

<<From the source file, copy and paste all the content into a new file, save the new file as a .rtf , and import the .rtf into RoboHelp to generate online tutorial>>

If the content is already in Word, simply do a "save as" and select "RTF" as the output format. That saves you one step. And although you can import this file into RoboHelp, here's another thought: get rid of the Powerpoint step, work in HTML, and use HTML as both your help format and your presentation format! A friend despises Powerpoint so much that he now gives all his presentations in HTML (using CSS to control the page format) or even in PDF!

Here's a rough cut at how this could work. (You'll need to refine a few details on your own, depending on your version of Word etc.) This approach has the advantage that you can test it out in about an hour using 3 or 4 test files to see how it works for you:

1. In Word, set up your content so that each "page" is in a separate file. To create a single "book" file out of all these scattered files, DO NOT use the Master Document feature; it's badly broken, and only Steve Hudson seems to be able to make it work reliably. Instead, create a single file filled with INCLUDETEXT fields linked to each of the individual files; when you update the fields, the file fills automatically with the content from the individual files, in the specified order. (See the online help about this field for details.) Use cross-references within the individual files to create hyperlinks between files.

2. For each file, do a "save as" and select "Web page" or HTML as the format, depending on your version of Word. Word produces ugly HTML, but it's still an acceptable output format. (You noted that you are good with macros, so you can always write some to clean up Word's HTML output.) A better solution might be to save the files in HTML in the first place, then open them as HTML in Word and edit them that way. This saves a conversion step.

3. You can now open the HTML in a browser and use that as your presentation format. If you add a hyperlink to the next document in the series at the end of each individual file, that becomes your "next slide" button. Ideally, you want to run the browser in "full screen" mode so as to banish the toolbars and menus. Some browsers may let you do this right out of the box (e.g., Apple's Safari), but for others, you may need to do a bit of hacking. See, for example, the following for Internet Explorer (IE): (There's probably an easier way to handle this, such as by installing a plug-in, but I don't use IE anymore and thus can't provide specific instructions.)

4. You can use the HTML directly as a help file, particularly if you supplement your current tools with something like DevaTools ( Or if you've got RoboHTML, you can import the files. (Haven't done this for many years, so I can't provide details.)

*Very* kludgy, but it gives you maximum control of your outputs and represents a zero-cost single-sourcing solution unless you have to purchase the Deva software or RoboHTML.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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Single Sourcing using Word, RoboHelp, and PPT: From: Ashaki K. Hamlett

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