In situations where costs and time-to-market are overriding considerations, Tech Pub Writers are finding that manual rearrangement of hard copy source for online viewing – a process know as “chunking” – is difficult, if not impossible, to do.
Of even greater concern is the ability to create and maintain technically accurate documentation that can be deployed in either print or online versions from a single source document.
Just as developers write code that can be compiled for a variety of operating systems, writers can adopt methods for single-sourcing their manuals. Reusable text can be shared within source documents, and those same documents can be designed to allow for easy conversion to multiple-output formats such as online help, without the need to manually “chunk” the text.
When to use Single-Sourcing?
Single-sourcing is best utilized when the same information needs to be shared between different manuals or forms of information presentation. Examples include the following: a printed document and online help that both need to be delivered to the same end user; multiple versions of the same manual or help that are needed for different purposes, such as OEM, student/teacher, or model applications.
What is available on the market?
Many of the current authoring tools offer some single sourcing options. Most of these options provide basic functionality needed to convert docs to help, or the reverse. However, they do not include any intuitive out-of-the-box tools that would allow writers to easily implement document variations, or customize their documents to meet a particular company’s unique publishing requirements.
Writers are also hampered by the fact that authoring tools published by competing companies do not cleanly interface or support all of the file formats or character sets needed for international releases. Legacy files often cannot be automatically transformed into the required new formats, thus requiring custom implementations. This is why special care needs to be taken when acquiring, applying, customizing and maintaining a comprehensive and enduring solution.
What is the impact on localization?
Localization is often required for products which are sold internationally. Single-sourcing lowers localization costs by eliminating redundancies, and reducing the translation volume. Information that is shared by different products, or presented in several display formats (like Help, and printed or PDF docs), can be translated and edited once, and then automatically folded into the different manual versions or formats for all required languages. If your localization vendor discourages applying single-sourcing techniques, press them to tell you why – or consider switching to a vendor that welcomes single-sourcing, and can fully contribute to its implementation.
What is the ROI?
Savings can be substantial not only on the source document generation side, but also in the areas of translation, layout work, desktop publishing and quality assurance. When the single-sourcing solution is used with all required file formats and languages, the savings obtained on the source side of the documents is also realized for all the localized target versions. When multiple language releases are required, savings will increase geometrically. Also, the time saved will facilitate simultaneous releases in all languages. The return on investment (ROI) of single-sourcing, particularly when translation and localization are involved, is very substantial.