Planning and creating help in two languages

Subject: Planning and creating help in two languages
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Mon, 5 May 1997 22:38:39 -0500

Susan Brown asked about managing changes in an online help
system that will be written in English and subsequently
translated into French. Coincidentally, that's what I'm
doing now, and lacking a budget (or helpers), I have to do
it manually. Here's how I'm planning to proceed... comments
and suggestions for improvement are certainly welcome.
(Please copy your responses to me privately--see the SIG
line--I'll be gone as of this weekend to the STC
conference, and will probably miss responses posted solely
on the digest. I'll try to summarize the week of the 19th.)

I've created a binder for each of the two modules of our
software, with a table of contents that lists all the help
topics and their context strings. This table also includes
checkoff columns for tracking the project (e.g., draft
written, draft approved, translation, compiled and tested,

I'll be doing all the writing and compiling myself, working
with a contracted translator, so I'll use the same context
strings in both languages to help me find and work with the
corresponding text in each language. As Susan's translator
suggested, I'm going to cut and paste the translated text
into a tested and near-final copy of the English file, then
save this as the French help file. It's tedious, but it
helps ensure that nothing gets missed... a keen sense of
self-preservation tells me that I don't want to have to
debug two hypertexts at the same time (one is plenty,
thanks). BTW, the online help will be distributed in
skeleton form (i.e., topic titles only, minus the text)
early in the beta testing cycle so the testers can critique
the help structure before I commit to a final version.

Since the technical reviews will all be on paper (no
workgroup software here!), I'll keep all my old (marked-up)
printed copies of the text in the binder, each one dated
and coded to indicate (via the context strings) the chunks
of help text (the topics) that changed; this is the print
equivalent of version management software. We've used a
similar approach successfully for our print publications,
so it should work well here. Changes to the French version
will be included in a separate section of the binder in the
same manner, but because the technical review will already
be complete in English, changes to the French should be
primarily grammatical rather than substantive and shouldn't
affect the English much. Checkoffs to ensure that any
belated changes have also been made in the French version
and approved by one of our French developers will appear on
the English review copies.

The table of contents provides a quick visual overview of
how the project is going... in fact, the table looks an
awful lot like a Gantt chart. If I can design a manageable
degree of clutter into the final version of the table, I'll
include the timeline directly in/on the table. If not, I'll
keep it externally. I'm tempted to use our database
software (Paradox) to do the tracking, because it would be
more efficient, but this will depend on me finding the time
to do the programming. (If I gave up e-mail for a few
weeks... <grin>)

Warning: I haven't fully tested this system yet, so I plan
to do a dry run with fake text to ensure this approach
works for me before I go into full production. If you like
my overall approach, I recommend that you do the same. The
basic approach should be fairly robust, but it will require
some debugging depending on the complexity of your project.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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