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Corporate blog of SCHEMA GmbH

Using group nodes to cross-reference variants

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In our last post, we looked at modularisation – so how you deal with content for product variants, for example. Today we are looking at an aspect of creating modular content: How do I handle links to variants in ST4? This is handled in ST4 using “group nodes”.

When are group nodes used?

Let’s clarify something first: group nodes are not “real” content objects, like text or graphic nodes. This means that you can’t open group nodes with the editor and insert a screenshot or a text paragraph, for example. Instead, you should see groups node as a kind of higher-level management node.

Group nodes are a useful tool in SCHEMA ST4:
They work with variants (be that in the form of text nodes, graphic nodes or fragments) that have a filter and are based on reuse. And those that you would like to link within these variants.

An example:

You are working with variant nodes for the “Overview of windows and menus” chapter for software ABC and software XYZ. The correct node is assigned using a filter in production. Now you want to link this chapter from software XYZ to the “GUI” chapter. Since this chapter is also a variant node of the “GUI” of software ABC, the cross-reference will always show the variant of software ABC – because this allows for reutilisation. This might mean, for example, that you are creating a cross-reference from a variant 1 text node to a different variant 1 text node. Once you start working with the reuse option, however, this cross-reference will also link nodes in variant 2 to variant 1. Group nodes solve this problem.

A neutral administrative object for creating links

When you create a cross-reference to a variant node, the cross-reference will only work on this variant. The same goes for graphic references. Without groups, the only graphic variants that can be referenced are those that are explicitly referenced in the nodes.

For this reason, you need some kind of substitute for the node variants. In other words, a higher-level node that contains the variants, but serves as a “neutral object” for cross-referencing purposes. As a result of the filter in production, the appropriate variant will then be output. These neutral objects are the very things that form group nodes.

The following explains how to handle groups for text nodes.

Creating groups

Creating groups is very quick and easy using the information pool in ST4. You have two options here:

  1. First, create a group at the desired position in the information pool using the context menu and then drag the nodes into the group.
  2. Select all the nodes to be assigned to a group and select “Convert to group” from the context menu. The nodes will then be directly saved to the newly created group node.

What is particularly interesting here: If the individual nodes have already been referenced or used, ST4 will retrospectively make a link to the group.

The following applies to production: Use this process for all group nodes and assign them to the corresponding variants in the product manager using the variant filter. The production manager then pulls the appropriate nodes from the group and uses them for production.

Referencing groups

When you have created the group, you can create cross-references to this group. This means that you are no longer cross-referencing the respective content nodes (text, graphic, fragment), but the higher-level group:

The following structure net shows how cross-referencing works:

The”Overview of windows and menus” node links to the “GUI” group, which contains both node variants (the right side of the image). The node titles have been adapted here to make it easier to distinguish between the variants.

If no filter is set for the variant on the content node, a cross-reference will automatically be created to the first element within the group.

What content can be managed in group nodes?

Since a group node is presented as a neutral object, it can be used to manage (more or less) all node types in ST4. Make sure, however, that only the same type of nodes are summarised under the created node group. This means that a group for text nodes may only contain text nodes and not graphic nodes.

In ST4 you can manage the following nodes in groups:

  • Text nodes
  • Graphic nodes
  • Fragments and structure fragments
  • Document nodes

A second potential use: group nodes as a structuring aid

A major benefit of modular structuring, as opposed to a file-based system, is that the information is organised in a flat hierarchy, making your metadata easy to identify. You can, however, still produce your own structure in the information pool to give yourself a better overview. This also gives the technical writer a better overview of the chapter structure: For example, you could sort all the chapters relating to the interface into one group node and all those for commands and settings into another:

This means you can achieve a better internal structure and the group nodes do not generate their own chapter. This process shows just how flexible group nodes actually are. However, they are only a technical necessity if you need to link variants.

Recommendations based on actual experience

To conclude, we have a few tips to help you get the most out of groups:

  • Give the group nodes the same name as the nodes below them. This will make it easier for you to find the correct link when you are creating links.
  • In the group title, replace product names, or names for variants, with a placeholder (e.g. <software>).
  • You can also correct cross-references retrospectively using the structure net.
  • When creating a group, check whether the filter on the variants has been set correctly.

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