On May 22, 2019, STC-SM welcomed Liz Fraley to Ann Arbor all the way from the STC East Bay Chapter in California. In addition to being a prolific speaker and well-known contributor in the technical communication community, Liz is the founder of Single-Sourcing Solutions, TC Camp, and the TC Dojo. Liz spoke with us for over an hour and engaged us in a fascinating discussion about a topic she understands deeply: The Power of Single-Sourcing.
Separate Form From Content
With single-sourcing, authors chunk content into individual topics that primarily deal with one task, concept, or reference. These topics are then saved as separate, stand-alone files. Authors commonly use an XML editor to create each topic according to the DITA standard. The final visual layout and formatting is defined by a stylesheet and performed automatically.
Once the individual topics are created, they can be reused across different documents and publishing formats (web, print, mobile apps, etc.). Because content is created once and reused when and where it is needed, single-sourcing has several key advantages over other types of document creation:
- Increases efficiency and streamlines authoring effort.
- Minimizes the risk of error created by copying or otherwise duplicating content across multiple documents and versions.
- Improves consistency, thereby reducing translation costs.
- Reduces formatting/layout effort and costs.
- Increases productivity by allowing employees to add the most value as subject-matter experts (SMEs).
- Reduces time to delivery because documents can be assembled faster.
A Tool Is Just a Tool
While many of us tend to think of software tools as determining how we work with and manage content, Liz encouraged us to think of single-sourcing as a methodology, not technology. The methodology is only as powerful as the processes in place to manage it successfully.
Therefore, if a company wants to move to single-sourcing and performs a thorough inventory and analysis of their documentation, workflows, potential to reuse content, and desired publishing formats, the best software tool to use should be obvious. This is why it is critical to have a clear vision along with strong planning and project management in place before moving to single-sourcing.
Another way to introduce single-sourcing is to start with a small project and go from there. Because content is always changing, and change triggers more change, there may never be a “perfect” time to start creating documents using the single-sourcing methodology. Liz inspired us to believe, however, that incremental steps in this direction are possible in almost any organization.
Many thanks to Liz for presenting and to our friends at Michigan Medicine for providing a fantastic space to meet at the University of Michigan North Campus Research Center in Ann Arbor, along with expert directions to and from the meeting room. We hope to collaborate again soon!