tools & technology
Buzzword: Single Sourcing
BY SEAN BRIERLEY, Senior Member, Central Connecticut Chapter
ingle sourcing, which has been a time to edit and update the deliverables,
Why Single Source?
buzzword in technical communi- Single sourcing is a documentation because all the changes can be made to a
cation for several years, is now workflow that creates multiple deliver- single document. With traditional work-
emerging as a practical, efficient, ables from one unmodified source docu- flows, changes would have to be synchro-
and cost-effective method for ment—that is, in the process of creating nized across many source documents.
creating multiple deliverables. You the deliverables, the source document is Single sourcing should not be con-
might want to consider single sourcing if not edited or modified. The deliverables fused with repurposing, which involves re-
you have some documentation projects produced by single sourcing can differ tasking an existing document designed
that repeat, if not every one of your pro- not only in form—for example, online for one deliverable, output, or audience
jects is a one-off, if you reuse some of help and print-ready documentation— and using it for a different deliverable,
your content, and if your budget plan- but also in content. Thanks to this flexi- output, or audience. Repurposing is use-
ning includes more than just the very bility, different content can be provided ful for turning around a one-off project,
next project. to different audiences, so that (for exam- while single sourcing is designed to
This article is intended to raise the ple) novice, intermediate, and advanced repeatedly create multiple deliverables
awareness of publications managers and users of a product can receive only the from one source. It is equally suited to
technical writers in general about the util- information that will be helpful to them. highly structured companies, which
ity and applicability of single sourcing to If you produce multiple deliverables that profit from its template-driven workflow
a broad range of document types. I’ll also share some of the same content, single or reliance on a complex database, and
discuss some of the workflow issues that sourcing can reduce the resources in time to highly informal companies, which ben-
need to be considered before imple- and staff you need to produce them. Single efit from the short development time
menting single sourcing. sourcing really begins to shine when it’s needed to produce multiple deliverables.
January 2002 15
tools & technology
Single-Sourcing Toolsets fessional (www.webworks.com), Omni Sys- best in a traditional multi-source envi-
Single-sourcing toolsets can be loosely tems’ Mif2Go (www.omsys.com), and ronment in which you might begin with a
classified into two categories: high-end Microsoft Word-based AuthorIT single document but end up supporting
and low-end. They include authoring soft- (www.author-it.com). High-end tools two or more sources.
ware, such as Microsoft Word and Adobe include those that feature XML render- Like all software, single-source toolsets
FrameMaker, in addition to the single- ing of content from databases, such as have different capabilities that should fac-
sourcing tools themselves, which interact Arbortext Epic (www.arbortext.com) and tor into your selection. For example,
with the authoring tools to create multi- FrameMaker-based Miramo (www.miramo FrameMaker includes conditional text, a
ple deliverables from a source document. .com). Such tools are suited to large com- feature that lets you define specific con-
High-end tools offer more flexibility and panies and publications departments. tent for a specific deliverable. AuthorIT
accept more types of documents, while Tools that have traditionally been used boasts some content management and
low-end tools typically adhere to a tradi- to create separate online help, such as security features, which are important if
tional book and online help model. ForeFront’s ForeHelp (www.forehelp.com) your structure requires that different
Low-end tools for single sourcing and eHelp’s RoboHelp (www.e-help.com), authors have different access rights to
include solutions that use template- might also be considered for single sourc- content. Some tools are capable of
driven workflows, such as FrameMaker- ing at companies that manufacture soft- accepting a variety of authoring-tool file
based Quadralay WebWorks Publisher Pro- ware. However, these tools currently work types as input, whereas other tools, like
WebWorks Publisher, accept as few as one
authoring-tool file type. Toolsets also have
varying capabilities for accepting or
accommodating customizations and the
variety of customizations that are permit-
ted. Another consideration in selecting
Single Sourcing: a toolset is the ease with which it permits
the automation of the single-source work-
flow, a key consideration in reducing the
An Example time needed to finish a project.
Whether any of these single-sourcing
tools fits within your budget depends on
small software manufacturer distributed online help and printed
A documentation using a traditional multi-source workflow. The printed
reference book was written first, and the online help was written based on
your corporate needs and philosophy,
but the benefits of single sourcing in
reducing the staff hours needed to create
the printed documentation. The time needed to produce the online help your deliverables will more than pay for
was eighty hours, in addition to the time needed to produce the printed these tools in the first or second project.
For more information on single-source
document. That company now turns around equivalent online help in
toolsets, refer to the resources listed at
three hours through the use of single sourcing. The savings is seventy- the end of this article.
seven hours per online help project, of which there are eight per year, for
a net total of 616 hours saved per year. Implementing Single Sourcing
The costs for switching to a single-sourcing workflow included the pur- The key to implementing single sourc-
ing is determining what you want for
chase of an $800 single-sourcing tool, sixty hours of template design
deliverables in terms of content and
(including testing and redesign based on feedback and familiarization
form, and working to the strengths of
with the new tool), and $2,000 and forty hours in training, including travel. your toolset to create and adhere closely
The commitment of 100 hours and $2,800 did not pay for itself in the first to templates. With an understanding of
project, but by the second or third project these expenses had been recov- the role of templates in single sourcing,
ered. An additional benefit that didn’t show up on the ledger sheet was the you’ll be better able to meet the require-
ments of moving to a single-sourcing
goodwill generated by training the staff on a useful and emerging work-
flow. Finally, twenty-four hours of downtime were needed to establish
The templates used for single sourcing
the preliminary templates. The rest of the template and workflow devel- usually exist both in the authoring tools
opment was done on a live project, and the formal training was under- and the single-sourcing tool you choose.
taken six months after the workflow had been established, to reinforce and The purpose of the template in the
hone the skills developed while implementing the new workflow. authoring tool would be to define and
tag the content that you author, while the
purpose of the template in the single-
16 January 2002
tools & technology
sourcing tool would be to manipulate the plates and content mapping have to thoughtful about what you are doing.
content for the various deliverables you account for how readers will use each You have to consider your deliverables
produce. Such templates can also con- medium. You might map headings to beforehand, understand why your cur-
tain modifications to the content, so you new HTML pages for the online help sys- rent workflow delivers what it does, deter-
can manipulate the content for a specific tem, so that the material is chunked into mine what you want to deliver from your
deliverable. The goal is to create tem- manageable sizes for just-in-time infor- new single-sourcing workflow, calculate
plates that let you completely automate mation delivery. However, if your tem- what needs to be incorporated into your
the process of moving content from a plates permit heading styles to be single-sourcing templates, and use your
source document to the deliverables. followed immediately by other heading single-sourcing tool to create those map-
Implementing single-sourcing templates styles in your single-source document, pings, conversions, and customizations
should be no more time-consuming than you will create blank HTML pages com- automatically.
the process for any tool or workflow, and prising only a heading.
the payoff is potentially huge in bringing Another issue when implementing sin- The Bottom Line
well-designed deliverables to market gle sourcing concerns navigability within Single sourcing is a workflow that
more quickly and efficiently. HTML or an online help project. In a addresses the resource needs of the
After you define your templates, you printed document, you can find related authoring company while producing mul-
need to map them between your single- information by thumbing a few pages tiple document deliverables, each of
sourcing and authoring tools and incor- before or after the section you are read- which effectively meets the needs of the
porate any customizations needed to ing, but in online help there is no before audience. Implementing a single-sourc-
create multiple deliverables automati- or after. As a result, you might consider ing workflow requires careful considera-
cally. Because information is taken from a designing your styles so that links to tion of the tools, templates, and other
source document and mapped to your related information, such as all the sub- elements that you need to use. However,
output, it is a good idea to carefully con- headings under a second-level heading, if you produce multiple deliverables that
sider content-based templates as well as appear in a particular section. For exam- share some content while differing in out-
formatting-based ones. That is, consider ple, an HTML page that you output put type and/or target audience, you can
defining your templates according to the might contain a bulleted list of related use single sourcing to greatly improve the
content they contain. Knowing that a cer- links, each of which might be level-three efficiency of your workflow. The bottom
tain style contains a certain kind of con- subheadings in a printed deliverable or line is that you should consider single
tent makes it easier to design your PDF. You can choose whether to include sourcing as an efficient way to save time
templates because you know whether the such links in all of your deliverables or in and money in delivering a useful set of
style needs to appear in all deliverables. only one kind of deliverable. documents to your customer.
For example, you might decide that a Deciding whether to display certain
style called “Callout” is Arial 9 point bold types of links in certain kinds of deliver- RESOURCES
and that it contains non-essential infor- ables raises the question of displaying or
mation designed to reinforce something hiding certain content from deliver- groups.yahoo.com/group/authorit-users:
elsewhere in the text. With this defini- ables—that is, creating from one source The AuthorIT user group.
tion in mind, you can decide to omit the multiple deliverables that differ in con-
style from an online help deliverable but tent. For example, you might design a groups.yahoo.com/group/HATT: The Help
to include it in a printed deliverable. single-source document that addresses Authoring Tools and Techniques group,
Indeed, the formatting of a style in single the needs of three separate audiences, a tool-independent peer-to-peer group.
sourcing is largely irrelevant because it such as novice, intermediate, and
often changes based on the deliverable in advanced users of a product. By assigning groups.yahoo.com/group/wwp-users: The
which the style appears. It is preferable to novice, intermediate, and advanced con- WebWorks Publisher user group.
define styles according to content, tent to different tags, styles, or conditions
because content remains constant across (depending on how your tools handle www.adobeforums.com: An official Adobe
the deliverable set. these things), you can create multiple product forum site, including Frame-
Additionally, your content has to be deliverables from one source just by Maker and FrameMaker+SGML forums.
chunked so that it works in each deliver- choosing which tags to output.
able. For example, printed documenta- In fact, there are many options and www.frameusers.com: An Adobe
tion, or PDF, flows from page to page, so directions in which you can take your sin- FrameMaker online user group, list, and
readers experience continuity outside the gle-source workflow, limited mainly by resource.
section in which they are working. But your own training, education, experi-
navigation through online help has an ence, imagination, and the tools you have EDITOR’S NOTE: STC now has a Single
element of random access. If PDF and chosen. Implementing single sourcing is Sourcing SIG. For more informarion,
online help (or HTML) are two of the the same as implementing any workflow: please visit www.stc.org/SIGS/single
deliverables you are authoring, your tem- To succeed you must be deliberate and sourcing.html.
January 2002 17