Single Sourcing and Formatting

Subject: Single Sourcing and Formatting
From: "Wing, Michael J" <mjwing -at- INGR -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 12 Feb 1998 09:00:17 -0600

> The real problem as I see it--and maybe this is what people were trying
> to say--is formatting. The problem is not fundamentally content,
> audience, or anything else. Formatting that looks good in a book is
> rarely best for online viewing, searching, etc.--or vice versa. Since
> the vast majority of word processors, desktop publishing programs, and
> markup languages embed formatting information in the text itself, rather
> than embedding references to the text within the formatting information
> (which would allow you to modify one copy of the text while maintaining
> two different sets of formatting information), this is a problem for
> which I see no short-term resolution.
> L.
> --
To me, formatting between mediums is merely a cosmetic problem and can be
overcome with a bit of creative document design. I have single-sourced my
documents for years. I use MS Word to create both a printed document and
online help from a single source. To do this, I did much of my writing in
generic .doc files. The text in these files is non-formatted and is
bookmarked. The generic files serve as a library of information that is
included in both printed and online.

The .doc files used for the printed document and the .rtf files used for
help control the formatting for each type of document. These files contain
only the information that is pertinent to the particular document (print
info only or help info only). They also contain the headings, RTF controls,
and so forth. Common information is inserted by text-field calls to
bookmarked information in the generic files. Most graphics are linked
instead of imbedded (which allows them to also be single-sourced).

However, I treat HTML documents differently. Much of the formatting is
mutable. Some of the formatting (page size, font style and size,
backgrounds, and so forth) are user-customizable through the browser. I use
default styles to allow them to set these formatting attributes. This
allows the user to view in one font and print in another.

I also make liberal use of dynamic HTML functions. Tables, fields, text,
graphics appear/disappear, enlarge/shrink, change contents, dim, etc...
interactively. Sometimes this is initiated purposely by the user by an
imbedded control. Other times, it is performed automatically by tracking
the mouse (through VBScript functions). For example, I put a basic workflow
for performing an operation. The user can double-click on some of the steps
to get more detailed instructions. When they double-click, additional
information appears within the step. Double-clicking a second time hides
the additional information.


Michael Wing (mailto:mjwing -at- ingr -dot- com)
Principal Technical Writer
Intergraph Corporation; Huntsville, Alabama
(205) 730-7250

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