ST4 Tips: Working with Standardized Tables
Tables are one of the most important presentation elements in technical documents. Whether technical data, maintenance plans, references to user interface elements or legends: Tables are simply irreplaceable because of their potential for displaying de-tailed information in a clear and structured manner.
It’s no wonder that we offer such a wide range of options for tables in SCHEMA ST4: with or without frame, with or without header row, with automatic scaling or freely selected column widths. There is hardly anything that can’t be done in terms of de-sign possibilities.
But can ST4 help your authoring team adhere to defined table structures? In standard-ized documents, you don’t want each table to look different. And in a well-defined work process, you want to save authors from having to define each table from scratch.
So, is there an option in ST4 to provide table templates?
Yes, that’s possible. I’d like to show you with an example how you can do this.
Step 1: Create fragment
The trick in ST4 is to create a fragment for each standardized table type. This frag-ment turns into the template.
I always recommend saving the templates as far up in the information pool as possi-ble. Logically, the templates are valid for the entire information inventory – often even globally. Here’s a good option for your file structure:
We’ll create a fragment in this folder. Let’s take a table for technical data, or more specifically for technical data for electrics, as our example.
A tip for naming your templates: since the fragment titles aren’t shown in the output documents, we can use them to name our table templates as precisely as possible.
Maybe this title looks a little cryptic at first glance. But it makes sense to choose template fragment titles that are easy to differentiate from standard node titles. Let me explain why in Step 3 further down.
Step 2: Design the standard table in the fragment
The fragment is created and has a title. Now we’ll concentrate on the content of the table template.
What comes next is simple. First we insert an empty table and define the layout.
In this example for technical data, we’ll use a design with two columns, a header row, and individually scalable column widths:
The template isn’t finished yet. There are other characteristics that tables for technical data all have in common. Such as:
- The entries in the header row
- The names for the data in the left column
- Where possible, the names for the physical units in the right column. Very important: The actual values shouldn’t be in the template, of course. In order to clearly mark this missing information as “To Do”, I like to use three question marks. You can also use an ST4 Comment as placeholder.
Our finished template looks like this:
Step 3: Insert the fragment into the node
The template is now finished and can be used right away. With Step 3 we change course to the everyday authoring process. How do technical writers use such a template in their nodes? And especially, how does the template fragment remain untouched?
For this we use the function “Insert fragment.” The unconventional title we chose in Step 1 now helps us to find the template quickly. If you enter one or two title key-words (which you as author usually know by heart) into the Search box, you’ll find the template immediately.
To insert the template into the node, one further thing is important: Click on the but-ton “Insert copy.” This inserts the content of the fragment into the node, but leaves the fragment itself untouched when we replace the question marks with real values.
This is the last step, and now our standardized table is finished.
To summarize: Really simple and very practical.
You see: Working with standardized tables in ST4 is no big thing. But it’s extremely helpful. And it saves you from needing to do unnecessary formatting just because ta-bles are a few millimeters too wide or too narrow. Millimeters that are visible in the final information product and which really impact the quality.
As a last step, let’s go back to Step 1. If you document technical products with ST4, you’ll need more than the one template which we just created as an example. Ten to fifteen table types are quickly defined.
One final point: table templates are basically defined standards. Standards that you don’t need to document in a style guide or need to look up for each table. This really saves you time in process documentation, and new team members are also quickly ramped. For tables, they only need to know where the templates are stored.