Re: Single Sourcing

Subject: Re: Single Sourcing
From: Damien Braniff <Damien_Braniff -at- PAC -dot- CO -dot- UK>
Date: Wed, 9 Jun 1999 15:48:52 +0100

I've heard several options for single sourcing since I joined the list but have
yet to come across one that satisfies me. As others have said, while content
may be the same (with variations in detail) the actual structure of the
information is totally different. Over the years I have written the manual and
the online docs as totally separte entities, I've created the online based on
the manual and have even written the manual based on the online info!

To me, the ideal is probably a mix of the first two options. My process (very
generally) goes along the following lines:

Early involvement in the project gives me a feel for what is required.
Usually leads to a manual outline - list of chapters, summary of content etc.
This may be neatly written out or scrawled in the back of a book somewhere -
usually only for my benefit as I try and order things in my mind.

Similar skeleton prepared for the online help/manuals. This is usually a bit
messier as I try and group topics together logically as far as online access
is concerned - often different to the manual structure. Again the topic
titles/groups are fleshed out a little and I start to get a feel for the
navigation (usually changes again as it gets fleshed out more!)

Works starts on the manual and chapters/sections begin to take shape.
Content tends to be geared very much towards the lowest level of user with a
structure that will (hopefully!) allow experienced users to skim what they
don't need/want to read. Generally intro, explanation, how to etc.

As the manual fills out I can start lifting bits to be used in the online
version. This tends to be the reverse of the hard copy manual with the first
port of call being the "how to" with background information just a jump away
(we've found help users generally use it to find out how to carry out a
specific task).

VERY rough outline and by no means hard and fast! The HAT we use has a doc
conversion mode which converts Word heading into topics/subtopics but I prefer
create my own structure and work from that.

This is basically geared towards online help. If you are going down the road of
full online documentation which provides the user with multiple access points,
full freedom to browse etc then it's an entirely different ballgame and none
I've seen were structure in a way that was suitable to print as a manual.

Damien Braniff
Technical Author
PAC International

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