How to include rather than exclude custom content?

Subject: How to include rather than exclude custom content?
From: "Phillip Gochenour" <pgochenour -at- loansoft -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 28 Mar 2006 12:02:18 -0800

I'm starting to plan a very complex project, and am looking for some
advice on how to deal with the conditional tagging of content that
should be *included* rather than just excluded.

My company produces a suite of applications for financial institutions,
and most of these institutions have the applications customized to some
degree or other. At present I'm using RoboHelp and conditional tagging
to create manuals based on what applications and functionality within
the suite that the customer has purchased. This has worked okay so far
in terms of the install and system administrator's manuals, where it's
largely a matter of leaving out information about applications and
functionality that the customer hasn't purchased. However, I'm about to
start work a new user's manual, and I don't think this method is going
to work as well.

With the user's manuals, the problem is that many customers have
customization at the screen level, including functionality that isn't
present in the other versions. This isn't enough to warrant a completely
different version of the manual, just alterations at the level of
certain screen and task instructions. I can't deal with this material in
an exlusionary method; what I really need to do is create a different
version of the topic, and have that included in the final output. Adding
to this complication is the arrival of a new product that will share
considerable functionality with the main product, but will have
significant differences at the user level. Again, this is material that
needs to be included in a final version, rather than excluded.

I've been looking into various solutions to this situation, most of
which seem to revolve around XML. I've tried out several tools,
including AuthorIT, Serna, and Xmetal, but I don't have enough knowledge
of XML or the tools themselves to have been able to create a test output
of the kind I need. I've also looked at Flare, with the idea of creating
different TOCs built out of different topics, but also haven't been able
to generate the kind of output I need.

I know this is a common situation, so I'd like to hear what tools and
methods others use to deal with it. I'm introducing single-sourcing to
this company, and while I think the buy-in is there for whatever I want
to do, the cost for entry needs to be low, in terms of both tool costs
and the ability to get something up and running fairly quickly. If it's
going to cost several thousand dollars and months of training and
experimentation to make this work, then I'll be pushed back into finding
a simpler solution (like providing the customers with the ability to
customize the manuals themselves, which is the current practice).

Any thoughts or advice would be more than welcome.


Phil Gochenour, PhD

Documentation Specialist

GHR Systems, a Metavante Company

1608 4th Street, Suite 400

Berkeley, CA 94710

510-809-3200 ext. 3201


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