Conditional content - what do you do with it?

Subject: Conditional content - what do you do with it?
From: "McLauchlan, Kevin" <Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>
To: "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 10 May 2010 16:50:21 -0400

Back in the day, I used conditions in simple ways in FrameMaker.

More recently, but still several years ago, I used conditional
text in RoboHelp, and started getting a little fancy with it.

That eventually bit me in the butt, and necessitated a huge
amount of work in a short time to fix, to my satisfaction.
So I began easing myself out of the use of conditions,
even as I was switching from RH to Flare as my HAT.

Even so, I still had conditions in place, especially in
help sets that had not been updated in a while.

While I found that I could trust conditions to behave as
expected in Flare, I still found the other problem that had
annoyed me. Both RH (as I recall....) and Flare use colored
cross-hatching on text, and colored icons in ToCs and file
lists, to show where a given condition is applied.

When text is given one or two conditions, that's manageable,
but when a block of text might have four or more cross-hatchings
applied to parts or all, it becomes visual mush.

My color perception is reasonably good; I can always pick
out the 'hidden' numbers and letters in the tests.
I'm not officially visually handicapped - I just have "the
biggest honkin' floaters <my ophthalmologist has> seen in
<his> twenty years of practice!" - but still, I find that
the visual clutter can be daunting. Makes reviewing
and editing a misery. But part of an editing pass is to
determine/confirm which bits should be included/excluded in
this-or-that circumstance. So some of my topics are
about as easy to read in WYSIWYG source as are government
documents that have gone through... ahem... redaction.
Makes ransom notes easy on the eyes, by comparison.

Maybe that's just me.

So what is the experience of others, and what do you
normally do with conditions? Do you allow them to
overlay? Do you break out text-and-illustrations to a
new page or snippet as soon as it looks like more than
one or two conditions might need applying if the content
remained on the original parent page?

Other?

For that matter, how is conditional text/content
depicted in the interface of HATs other than RH and
Flare?

I find that after you've hit three layers of colored
cross-hatching, you are pretty much looking at brown.
But then, that's what I said about the curtain material
my wife picked out "It's got this bit of gold to pick
up this accessory, and this thin red stripe to pick up
the furniture fabric and that other little stripe to
catch the painting behind the sofa ..."
"But Dear, from more than three feet away, it all
looks brown to me."
"Brown!? That's what you say about tweed - 'it
all looks grey' to you.
"Well, yeah. It could have a million colors in it,
but step back ten feet and every tweed jacket and
skirt in the world is grayish brown... or brown-ish
gray." :-)

What works out there? For HATs and conditions, I
mean, not fabric selection.

How small a unit do you conditionalize?
Do you actually go within-page to apply conditions
on chunks of text, or do you confine your conditions
to the topic-page-file level?

I feel that I should be getting much more use and
convenience out of the conditional feature.
One of the product lines that I document has five
major products that share a good 30 percent of
their content globally, while several pairs within
the group would have as much as 70-percent commonality.


Kevin McLauchlan
Senior Technical Writer
SafeNet, Inc.
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