SUMMARY: Conditional text in FrameMaker

Subject: SUMMARY: Conditional text in FrameMaker
From: Larissa Neumann <neumannl -at- DSCLTD -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 25 Feb 1998 13:42:09 -0500

Hi Everybody:

Thanks so much to everybody who sent me messages. It was all very
helpful.
Our group is still evaluating the idea of switching to FrameMaker, but
it looks favorable so far. I haven't received any messages from people
who hated FrameMaker, which seems to be a good sign. My original
question follows, and then a summary of what people wrote.

I work at a manufacturing company as an in-house technical
writer. Most of the manuals we produce are relatively short (under 60
pages) due to printing constraints. So far, we have been using PageMaker
for all our manuals, and it has worked out fairly well.

The problem: We have many products, some of which have several
versions (i.e.. product AA for North America, product AB for Mexico,
product AC for Europe, etc.) and each version requires a separate
manual. For example, one of our products has 14 versions (and this
doesn't include languages other than English)!

With PageMaker, we must create a separate publication for each
version. This is VERY frustrating when we need to make revisions (which
seems to be just about every day). I understand that FrameMaker has
conditional text and document comparison features. These features SOUND
like they would make our lives much easier.

My question is... how well do these features work? Are they
"robust" enough to handle many versions? Or do they only work if you
have a couple of versions? Would having the above features be worth the
cost of a new software package (ie. software + training + conversion
hassles)?

If people reply to me off-list, I will summarize and post the
results. Thank you (in advance) for your help.

........................................................................
....................
Larissa Neumann neumannl -at- dscltd -dot- com

DSC Ltd., 1645 Flint Road, Toronto, Ontario Canada

All opinions are my own and do not reflect the opinions of DSC
Ltd.

........................................................................
.....................


On conditional text (general):

Conditional text works *very* well. It'll handle up to 16 conditional
tags. We've got a document that uses 7, and it works flawlessly. (David
Castro techwrtr -at- crl -dot- com])

Yes, FrameMaker does have conditional text which works quite well and is
infinately expandable (Bernice Kieffer bernice_kieffer -at- mentorg -dot- com)

Yes, FrameMaker's conditional text features are ideally suited for what
you
are trying to accomplish.
The feature is very robust and you can define as many conditions as you
like. ... I don't know of any realistic limit on the number of
conditions you can define. Now 14
conditions is a lot and it could look real stunning if you turned all
the
conditions on -- which is generally a good idea when you're editing.
(Bob Armao [BArmao -at- dataware -dot- com])

If you have about 95% commonality, it's no problem. But if you have only
50%
commonality, conditional text will drive you bonkers. (Chris Scannell)

For exactly the reasons you've stated, I switched to FrameMaker two
years ago. No regrets! You'll need to plan for some downtime while you
get familiar with the new software and work on the conversion process.
But it will be worth it in the end. (Tom Johnson [johnsont -at- freeway -dot- net])

Almost 3 years ago, we switched to Frame specifically for the
conditional
text and variable features. These features, along with Frame's terrific
ability to handle large books have really paid off. When we want to
print
a specific manual, we apply the template (that we have prepared in
advance)
to the book, and voila, we have a product specific manual. All that's
left
is to adjust the page breaks.
Of course, the hard part is deciding which condition tags you should
apply
to the text (and graphics) as you write it. ...
The variables are great, too. We use them for product names, company
names, and the like. (David Hirschler [DGHirschler -at- automatedlogic -dot- com])

In my last job I used it for ten manuals ranging in size from 500-1000
pages each.
Our template included 14 conditions which we used in various
combinations. It exceeded our
wildest dreams in terms of how well it worked and how much it simplified
the document maintenance function (you only have to make updates once
instead of making sure you "catch" everything in every version).
(Candace Bamber [cbamber -at- castek -dot- com])

I've used Frame since version 3, and I have to tell you that it's
*wonderful*. You won't be sorry if you decide to go with it. ...
The trick to getting the most efficient use of this feature is
to ensure that you define the tags you want correctly. For example,
let's say you've got 14 different products. Of those 14, 3 have
tended to be word-for-word as far as how you document them.
Instead of defining 3 separate conditional tags, I'd only define
1, meaning that revisions take less time. Of course, if you have
some info (such as maybe software requirements, etc.) that are
common to all 14, you simply don't conditionalize the text,
meaning that once you revise once, it's done for all.(Beth Thomerson
[thomerson -at- bgs -dot- com])

On conditional text (recommendations for using):

I have some trouble with 4 different combinations (of conditional text)
(doesn't help
that I'm colorblind; some of your staffers might be as well), and 14
would be incomprehensible. (Chris Scannell [cscannell -at- bluecurve -dot- com])

You do have to think the process out before you dive in. Try to
anticipate
all the variations you will have, perhaps based on platform, user
audience,
or whatever. Name your conditions in some reasonable way that reflects
their
purpose. (Bob Armao [BArmao -at- dataware -dot- com])

One piece of advice - you really have to control conditional text
carefully
to ensure it works correctly and consistantly. This means prethinking
the
condition names, and exactly where and how each condition will be used.
In
your condition standards you need to include things like the smallest
unit
of conditional text allowed (the word, the sentence, the paragraph, the
section, the chapter, etc), whether to include the punctuation that
precedes or follows the conditional area, etc. (Candace Bamber
[cbamber -at- castek -dot- com])

On document comparison:
Document comparison isn't world-beating but it is adequate. (Stuart
Burnfield [slb -at- fs -dot- com -dot- au])


On learning FrameMaker:

Don't forget, FrameMaker has a steep learning curve if you are
unfamiliar with
a full fledged Publisher tool. The learning curve reflects the fact that
FrameMaker is extremely powerful. You can specify every aspect of
documantation
layout with FrameMaker. All you have to do is KNOW HOW. (Bernice Kieffer
bernice_kieffer -at- mentorg -dot- com)

FrameMaker is a fairly complex product, but if you've mastered PageMaker
you'll figure it out. (Bob Armao [BArmao -at- dataware -dot- com])

You'll need to plan for some downtime while you
get familiar with the new software and work on the conversion process.
But it will be worth it in the end. I've been able to get it to do
pretty much everything I want it to.
(Tom Johnson [johnsont -at- freeway -dot- net])

You have to train everybody and have a review procedure until everybody
gets the hang of it. (Candace Bamber [cbamber -at- castek -dot- com])

I think that 'steep learning curve' some people talk about
is exaggerated. Frame has its faults but it's well designed and has few
sizable bugs. (Stuart Burnfield [slb -at- fs -dot- com -dot- au])

On conversion from PageMaker:

If I were to go through the conversion process again, I might resign
myself to dropping all of the PageMaker formatting and starting from
scratch in Frame. Here's the reason: one drawback of FrameMaker is its
tendency to retain paragraph styles. They actually tend to accumulate.
You'll understand once you use Frame for a while. By saving the PM files
as text and then applying FM styles, you avoid bringing in PM styles on
top of what Frame already has. In our case, PM files used Subhead1,
Subhead2, etc. and FM files use Heading1, Heading2, etc.. Now, our FM
files have both sets of heading styles. I have heard Adobe is working on
a way to purge extraneous paragraph styles. It might even be the newest
version has that capability. It isn't a big issue, but I prefer to keep
my files free of clutter and styles to a minimum. (Tom Johnson
[johnsont -at- freeway -dot- net])

I think the benefits would more than make up for any changeover costs.
(Stuart Burnfield [slb -at- fs -dot- com -dot- au])




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