Single Sourcing in Technical Communication

Single sourcing is defined as a process of creating multiple outputs by varying and reusing content. Minimalism is the art of creating very precise and usable content. Some rules of minimalism are as follows:

  • Use action verbs and delete dead verbs
  • Use concision to eliminate unnecessary words or repetitions
  • Keep it simple—avoid any slang

Minimalist writing helps with single sourcing by creating reduced content that helps the organization save money spent on translation and document production and by reducing cost associated with poor documentation. It also makes the documents more clear, usable, and easy to read. Lastly, the writers spend less time on reviewing and editing the documents.

Goals

The following are some goals of single sourcing:

  • Create multiple formats
  • Create different versions of a document
  • Design audience-specific documents
  • Reduce cost of document production
  • Make use of the content overlap

Tools

  • Framemaker
  • Author IT
  • MadCap Flare

Sample Documents

  • Online help documents
  • User guides
  • Web pages

Benefits

Reduce Production Cost

Single sourcing reduces cost of production by allowing authors to create multiple formats of the same document. This significantly reduces the cost of document production.

Save Time

A technical writer may write and review the content only once. Thus, single sourcing makes it possible to create multiple formats and versions of a document within a limited time frame.

Reduce Translation Cost

A significant reduction in translation cost is achieved by using XML based tools. These tools know the content that has been previously translated and the content that can be translated. For instance, it is possible to reuse chunks of previously translated contents in a new document. This reduces the amount of untranslated content that is sent to the translators.

Create Multiple Versions

Single sourcing allows a technical writer to reuse content to create multiple versions of a document.

Update Content Only Once

There is no need to manually update content in different versions/formats of a document. The user may update content only once, and it will update everywhere it is used.

Create Highly Usable Content

Single sourcing enhances usability for both writers and users. Writers find it easier to collaborate and share content with their team. Single sourcing also allows writers to manage their time effectively by allowing them to write less content. Furthermore, users are able to read the content in any desired order. Lastly, single sourcing allows the users to quickly scan the documents and find required content.

Drawbacks

Create Ineffective Documents for Multiple Audiences

It is difficult to create documents that meet the needs of a variety of audiences. For instance, the information required by a technical expert may not be useful to a novice and vice versa.

Manage High Cost of Training

Businesses spend a lot of money to train the writers in a variety of tools that allow single sourcing. Also, if an organization switches to a new version of the software, then it might have to spend extra money to train their writers again.

Create Ineffective Customized Content

Every situation requires customized content and presentation styles. For instance, it may not be advisable to use the contents from a hard copy of a user guide in an online help file.

Conclusion

Technical communicators create specific and accurate content that meets the needs of its audience/users. A good technical writer is a minimalist who avoids any jargon and repetitions, explains difficult concepts in simple language, and reduces content by using certain writing strategies. Technical communications is a fast-paced and demanding profession where creating documents in a time-efficient manner is a requirement. This is why technical communicators utilize the process of single sourcing to create documents in multiple formats—this saves companies and professionals time and money.

References

http://www.cherryleaf.com/PDFs/ReducingTranslationCosts.pdf
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_source_publishing
http://www.cherryleaf.com/PDFs/single%20sourcing%20an%20introduction.pdf
http://www.scriptorium.com/whitepapers/wp_singlesourcing.pdf
http://www.docstoc.com/docs/79405497/Single-Source-Documentation
http://www.publishingsmarter.com/resources/books-and-articles/why-minimalism-matters
http://www.scriptorium.com/stc0799.pdf
Lecture 1. TCN 811. Single Sourcing for Topic Based Writing.