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Single-Sourcing with MadCap Flare

One of MadCap Flare's biggest strengths lies in single source authoring, which means reusing content, and producing multiple outputs from the same set of source files. Flare lets you single-source your projects in many ways, including using topic-based authoring, snippets, variables, conditions, and more. So you can create the most valuable content or technical documentation in multiple formats for your end users — from online help systems to printed documentation like user manuals.


Topic-Based Authoring Forms the Building Blocks of Your Content

In other authoring software and applications or word processing programs like Microsoft Word, everything is part of a single file-the existing content, the table of contents, the glossary, the styles, and so on. It's not like that in Flare. Instead, most of the pieces are separate, sort of like building blocks. This is what makes Flare such a powerful authoring tool among other single source authoring tools as it gives you so much flexibility in your content creation.

Let’s Drill This Down Further

Your single source content is stored in topic files and in smaller snippet files. And images exist as separate files and are included in topics and snippets by reference. Your table of contents is a different file, as is the glossary. The styles are stored in a separate cascading stylesheet file. In fact, you might even have a project with multiple TOCs, multiple glossaries, and multiple stylesheets that can be used to create multiple formats and versions of your documentation. It all depends on how you want to work and set the authoring environment.

Indexes are different because they are created partly by inserting index keywords into topics and snippets. There is no separate index file in the Flare project. However, for the most part, you’re dealing with separate files as structured content or building blocks in Flare.

A target file takes all of these pieces, merges them together, and generates the desired output.

Topics are where you type your text and other source content. You want your topics to have enough substance to stand on their own, but short enough to be able to easily reuse them in different places in multiple outputs. One chapter in a PDF that you create from Flare, for example, will usually consist of several separate topics.

illustration of import process from single source authoring tools
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Powerful Single-Sourcing Features

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A variable is a brief, non-formatted piece of content that can be edited in one place but used in many places throughout your project. They're especially good for text that might frequently change, such as version numbers and dates. Variables are stored in variable sets, which can hold multiple variables. Depending on the template you select and your content strategy when creating a project, Flare may provide you with an initial variable set. Still, you can add as many additional variable sets and variables as you like.

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A snippet is a chunk of formatted content that is heavily used in single-sourcing. Snippets can include text, tables, images, and whatever else can be included in a normal topic of your content strategy. You can insert snippets into one or more topics throughout your project, thus allowing you to reuse content that is maintained in one place. You can even insert them into other snippets, creating nested snippets within your documentation. Snippets are not usually intended for single words or very short phrases. In those cases, you probably want to use variables instead.

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A condition is a single sourcing feature that you can apply to files or different areas of your content or document so that some information displays in one output file format but not in another, or it displays only when viewed on a certain device or screen size. For example, maybe you need to produce both online and print-based output. Much of the content you create is going to be the same for both outputs, but some of it is going to be written only for online output, and some only for the print-based output file format. So you can create condition tags for each and use those tags to separate the content when you build your output.

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Snippet Conditions

Snippet conditions are condition tags that you can apply to content within snippets. You can separate certain snippet content to display in some topics or template pages but not in others. Whereas regular conditions are included or excluded at the target level, snippet conditions are included or excluded at the topic or master page level.

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Condition Tags

A condition tag is a marker that you can apply to different areas of your structured content so that some sections show up in some of your outputs but not in others. You can apply condition tags at all levels in Flare—character, paragraph, file, and more.

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Mediums for Topic Styles

Let's say you want one style setting (e.g., underline font) to be used for online output and another setting (e.g., do not underline font) to be used for printed output. You can use a medium in your stylesheet to create different settings for the same style. When you apply a particular medium to a target, it will be used for that output.

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Table Print Styles

A table style sheet allows you to single-source your table formatting by setting the properties in one place and reusing them wherever you insert tables in your project. But what if you want the tables in your online output to look one way and the tables in your printed output to look another way? One solution is to insert two different tables (one for online output and another for print) throughout your project and then use condition tags on them. A better solution is to insert a single table at each location, using a special version of the table style for print-based output.

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Images and Video

If you have both MadCap Flare and MadCap Capture (included free with Flare) installed in your content management system, you can single-source your images, producing only one set of images for all outputs. You can specify that the online images should have one group of settings, while the printed images have another group of settings. The same can be done with MadCap Mimic, also included free with Flare.

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