Modern content management systems do not manage documents, but rather relatively small, self-contained content modules. This allows the content to be re-used in many different manuals and other documentation. Changes only have to be made in one place and the content is updated in several documents.
The content management system merges existing content modules for a new manual and creates new ones if necessary, using document structures than can be standardized and re-used. A CCMS boasts many functions for this publication method that greatly simplify a technical writer's workload.
Manuals often only differ in a few aspects, such as the model name and a few different product functions. A CCMS can define and selectively control such variants. If content only has to be created once for a wide range of documents, this also allows for efficient workflows. So that each content module “knows” which variant it belongs to, it is necessary to classify the modules using metadata. Typical metadata include product lines or target groups, as well as editorial content such as team members or release status.
Variants can also be created by parallel development stages of products. For example, a new version of a software package can already be developed while the previous version is still being supported. A CCMS helps writers to manage various version stages through a versioning of content modules, meaning it is always clear which information refers to which stage of development.
Content databases in technical writing can often contain thousands of modules. Therefore, powerful search options are an important feature in any CCMS. It must be possible to store the content units in a traceable manner and to find them again using a wide variety of criteria. For example, it must be possible to search for metadata as well as for version statuses or, for example, which modules refer to another module. It also needs to be possible to save search queries so that frequently recurring, complex queries can continually be retrieved during quality assurance, for example.
Translations form a significant cost factor for many companies. Content management systems can reduce translation costs as only individual modules have to be translated rather than entire manuals. For this purpose, it is necessary that the CCMS retains all translated content as well as the relationship to the original language module. Many CCMSs have a standardized interface to translation tools so that cooperation with translation service providers can be strengthened even further. Also, many content management systems are connected to terminology management tools or their own terminology components. Linguistic consistency and clarity in translation is thereby guaranteed.
Perhaps you have already asked yourself how the content modules can be combined if they are used in documents with different layouts. In a CCMS, the content is strictly separated from the layout. The layout is only assigned to the content once it is published. Since the content is structured, this can happen automatically. Lots of tedious design work is therefore eliminated – in the original text as well as in the translations.
Layout is to be understood very broadly in this case, as layout is not just about whether a manual is produced in A4 or A5. Layout can also mean that a manual is published as a website or mobile app. With layout automation, you have a powerful tool at your disposal to make your content available on several different channels.
In addition to these features, many manufacturers offer numerous other functionalities. According to the needs of your technical writing department, you will either love such additional functions or be able to do just fine without them. If your current system lacks the functions described above or the useability leaves much to be desired, then you now know that there are many more efficient systems on the market. If you want to get more of an idea of what these systems can offer, we are happy to assist you!