[Guest Post] “From One to Many – Single Sourcing With RoboHelp”, by Neil Perlin

Welcome to the second of three posts covering questions that I often hear about RoboHelp. In this post, I’ll look at single sourcing – does RoboHelp support it and with what features. As with the previous post, this one summarizes a related webinar. You’ll find the recording at “From One to Many: Single Sourcing with RoboHelp 10“.

Basic Definition

01 1-to-manyThe simplest working definition of single sourcing is “creating one source of content from which to extract subsets of content to create different outputs and/or re-use that content in different outputs”.

What are “different outputs”? When RoboHelp appeared in 1991, at time, “different outputs” meant a help system and a print version, usually PDF. That’s still common, but the outputs now include more formats like WebHelp, HTML5 (mobile and desktop), and AIR, different devices like smartphones and tablets, different markets, different user audiences, and more.

What’s “re-use”? It’s a familiar issue. Imagine having to use the same text or image in multiple places. In the past, you’d create the item, insert it, then copy and insert it in the additional locations, only to have to find each insertion when the text changed. This is difficult and inefficient. RoboHelp’s re-use features let you create the item as an object and insert that object wherever you need it. If the text changes, you simply change the object and RoboHelp will propagate the change everywhere.

Single sourcing offers two major benefits:

Several questions often arise regarding single sourcing:

Note – About ten years ago, single sourcing was redefined in the consulting world to mean “storing all content in one source format and creating outputs in the same format”. Everything else that comprises single sourcing became “multi-channel publishing”. The effect was to artificially create a new market space, but the two terms essentially mean the same thing. I’ll refer to “single sourcing” but be aware of this new term.

Single Sourcing Features in RoboHelp

For details about RoboHelp’s single-sourcing features, see the recording of the webinar click on the following title: “From One to Many: Single Sourcing with RoboHelp 10“.

Here I’ll just sum up the features, starting with the single sourcing-specific ones:

Not single sourcing-specific but still crucial to it are two more features:

How Difficult Is Single Sourcing?

Mechanically, it’s surprisingly simple. Features like conditional tags are easy and quick to apply. A CSS can be complex, but you can create a basic one from scratch in a few days. And so on …

But that simplicity can also lead you to start a project without first defining its specifications, sometimes called the “Ready, fire, aim … oops” model. Preventing this takes upfront planning. It doesn’t take much – you can typically define a project’s specifications, architecture, standards, and core control files, which can often be used on later projects as well, in a week or less. The result won’t be perfect, but you will be able to start actual development in days rather than months.

A Few Steps Toward Controlled Single Sourcing

To keep things under control, follow these steps (and some additional ones discussed in the webinar):

Summary

Is RoboHelp a single sourcing authoring tool? Simply put – yes, and an extremely powerful one for most of today’s TechComm output needs and newly emerging ones.

See also the other two parts of this Series from Neil Perlin: