- Industry Trends
Have you ever counted just how many manuals the technical documentation department in your company creates? How many different ones are there? The result will probably come as a shock; in almost every company, there are tons of instructions documents in countless different variants.
There are manuals for different product variants that differ in just one aspect. There's maintenance literature for trained staff, documentation for the US market, and instructions in French, Danish, Japanese, and English. On top of this come manuals for previous versions as well as paper and PDF instructions, and instructions for mobile devices. Most documents in technical documentation are variants of other documents.
However, while this might sound simple at first, it poses its own unique challenges. For instance, have you ever wondered how a technical writing department is supposed to maintain an overview of all the different variants? Well, it can be easy – with a component content management system like SCHEMA ST4 that is!
At first, variants sound simple. You just have to take into account the differences and that's it, the new text is ready. However, in reality it's easier said than done. There are three main reasons for this:
Every product variant entails a significant number of editorial variants in technical documentation.
Changes to a variant must be made in all documentation affected by this variant – except for variants in which the previous information still applies.
Managing which variant includes which content and in which version is a real challenge amid the huge number of variants in technical documentation.
Even companies with a small portfolio of products have difficulties managing these variants as Word or InDesign documents in the file system. In principle, it is possible to manage the different options for the individual variants in Excel lists. However, the limits are soon reached in terms of the clarity that this can provide.
SCHEMA ST4 saves content as modular components. This means that if there are changes to one component, the same component in all variants will be changed too and these changes will be available immediately for all variants. At the same time, component content management systems such as SCHEMA ST4 offer advanced metadata systems. These can be used within the components to automatically supply variables for product designations, for example. Additional mechanisms such as data nodes enable your technical writing team to depict variants in an efficient and finely granulated manner.
Since you manage your content in SCHEMA ST4 in a modular content pool, you only need to manage relatively few components for lots of different (output) documents. It's easy to search for and filter these components using metadata and content properties.
To create the end product, you combine the components individually in projects to create the various product, media, and target group variants. You can save these projects and use them over and over again or modify them later as copies to create new variants. Detailed and user-friendly report modules provide a comprehensive overview of which components have been used in which projects.
SCHEMA ST4 supports you in many ways when it comes to translation management. It offers authoring assistance and terminology management as standard. Even external systems for controlled language can be integrated, thereby ensuring the formulations used are as consistent as possible and reducing translation costs. Component content management systems typically support the commonly used standards for localization and terminology such as XML, TBX, and COTI. This makes it possible to connect all common translation memory systems and terminology management systems directly to the editing system, thereby directly integrating your editorial team into the translation workflow of your language service provider.
Variants first develop as a consequence of the different product series and design options. There are also editorial variants for different usage situations (e.g., setup instructions) and target groups (e.g., maintenance manuals for operating staff or service engineers). Specific national standards and cultural differences in the target markets result in additional variants too.
Strictly speaking, translations are also variants of instructions but technical documentation teams typically refer to them as “dimensions”.