Anyone who works with a Component Content Management System (CCMS) and maybe even with SCHEMA ST4 will be familiar with modular content. Content in these systems consists of individual modules which, when combined, produce the whole document. However, an individual module may also stand alone and be displayed as a separate HTML page on a system control panel or tablet. This fundamental concept of modularisation is very important for technical writing and provides many advantages. Today, we want to show you five of these.
One module can be implemented in x contexts
With linear authoring of Word documents, for example, content can often only be used in other contexts by copying and pasting, whereas with modular authoring, this can be done much more easily. A module is created once and then used in different contexts. If the technical writer changes the content of the module, this change is copied dynamically to all the other places where it is used. The link between the module and where it is being used applies to all foreign languages, variants and document types used. The module stands alone so that it can be used in various contexts.
Good examples of modules include the functional description and assembly instructions for a component or specific section of a system. If this component or section of the system is also used in other systems, the relevant module can also be re-used in the documentation.
Modules’ metadata make them easier to find and manage
Each module has metadata, which provides information about the type of module (e.g. instruction, description), its target group and much more. A lot of information, such as product variants or even metadata from the iiRDS context, is presented as metadata. Metadata thus enables modules to be classified and managed by computerised systems – and at the same time, metadata makes it quicker and more efficient for you to find the exact module you are looking for. A search for metadata involves searching all modules for metadata or a combination of metadata. The search result returns all the relevant modules. For example, all modules with the type “instruction” for variant A that have not yet been translated.
Another look at the variants provides a good example of this: an instruction regarding how specific master data is created in software variant A (e.g. “Premium”) also applies for software variant B (“Classic”), but not for software variant C (“Light”). If the metadata for this module is properly maintained, it can be found using these criteria. This metadata could also be used by a system to automatically compile documents which, for example, only include modules for variant A.
Modularisation means standardisation – and hence a better overview
Anyone who modularises their content will standardise some of it sooner or later. This includes standard text formulations, module types and module sizes, a filing system for module management, etc. For technical writers, this in turn means that they have clear guidelines for their day-to-day work in the CMS, thus avoiding misunderstandings whilst simplifying authoring work.
Modularised content thus nearly always means standardised content coupled with a standardised authoring process. This has a positive impact on all subsequent processes.
There are two further advantages if modular content has a uniform and recognisable structure:
- Quality assurance can be significantly simplified and accelerated in the form of authoring and technical reviews. For example, with a component content management system, reviews are restricted to content yet to be approved. Metadata on each module informs the content management system whether or not content has already been granted authoring or technical approval.
- It is easier for technical writers (and also end users in content delivery scenarios) to find what they are looking for.
Modular content improves the quality of your output
The modularisation, classification and standardisation of content results in the improved quality of documentation products and authoring processes.
- If you use a component content management system, such as SCHEMA ST4, it can automatically interpret structured modular content and, for example, specify layouts targeted to suit the target format. Every output format for each variant and foreign language is thus controlled centrally and standardised layouts mean that there are no more “nasty surprises” during publication (as is sometimes seen with graphics in Word). Same information composition, same structure, same layout and design.
- By reusing modular content, less new content needs to be created for new projects or variants. Component content management systems thus relieve technical writers of the burden of administration. They know at all times which modules are used where. They also know which modules have already been translated into which languages, and which have not. This significantly reduces the costs and time associated with translation and improves quality.
- As the standards apply across modules and the modules may have already been translated, the technical writer’s actual main tasks – content creation and content management – become easier and more efficient: Are all modules available for the current project? If not, which ones are missing and still need to be created? Which modules require which target document for the project?
Modularisation enables flexible content output formats
Content creation using a component content management system, such as SCHEMA ST4, is media-neutral. This means that the content, structure and layout of your output formats are created and edited independently of each other. This enables content to be compiled as you require and the respective individual layout is only applied afterwards, depending on the envisaged output format.
Thus, in the case of software documentation, a module of the type “instruction”, for example, will be both part of the document structure of the user manual in PDF format and also part of an HTML page connected with a software interface.
As you can see, the advantages of modular working are interrelated and our description basically lists all parameters for modular working. We have presented the key positive effects here. However, you will almost certainly discover more as you work.