K. Friedrichs Consulting, Inc. Newsletter
With the edge to clarify, simplify, and transform.
If your company produces many different types of documentation—brochures, training booklets, data
sheets, user guides, and online help—with much of the same content in each, then single-sourcing might
make sense for you.
At its most basic level, single-sourcing means writing content once and reusing it many times for many
different documentation formats. The following are just a few of the benefits of single-sourcing:
- You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time someone starts a new documentation project.
- Your company has a consistent message and presentation across its documentation, which
positions or “brands” your company in your customers’ minds.
- Reviewers only have to review the information one time and in one place, rather than in many
documents, which ensures that nothing gets overlooked.
- Everyone has access to the latest content so that you don’t have to worry about whether your
documents are accurate.
- Your staff is freed up to take on new projects.
Moving to single-sourcing does require some upfront work, including analyzing the needs of your users;
planning your content and approach to meet those needs; determining where and how content will be
stored; establishing documentation rules; creating templates; writing the content; and so on. It also means
rethinking the way you write content—the content must be generic so that it can be used in many places
without having to tweak it.
While moving to single-sourcing can be expensive, it doesn’t have to be. You can start out on a small scale
and expand as your company or your needs expand. There are generally three levels of single-sourcing—
basic, mid-range, and high-end:
- A basic single-sourcing solution means making use of tools you already have rather than buying a
new tool. For example, if you currently write and produce your only hard-copy documentation using
Microsoft Word, you can continue to use it. For less than $300, you can purchase Adobe Acrobat to
also create PDFs of your Word files. However, you may need to rethink your content and break it into
smaller files that contain, for example, only your copyright information, a product overview, and so on.
- A mid-range solution might mean investing in a software application, such as Adobe’s RoboHelp or
Madcap Software’s Flare, that allows you to create both online help and printed documentation from
the same content. Or it might mean buying one application for print documentation, such as
FrameMaker, and another for the online help. Some of these software applications include
conditional text” functionality—that is, you label the text for the conditions in which it can be used, e.g,
print only, online help only, UNIX platforms only, and so on. You can buy a mid-range solution for
approximately $1000 per license and up.
- A high-end solution consists of a content management system (CMS), which uses a database. You
can store your content in the database as chunks of data and then select the data and format you
need and then “publish” to that format. Some of the other benefits of a CMS are the check in and
check out of content to avoid overwriting data, version control, and much more. While a full-fledged
CMS can run into the hundreds of thousands and take many months to implement, there are
smaller systems such as Arbortext Epic or AuthorIT that can cost under $2000 per license.
If you’d like more information on single-sourcing and how it might work for your company, please contact us
at K. Friedrichs Consulting - email@example.com or 619-252-6804.