The project I'm currently developing is for training on Office 2016 products and includes instructor guides, student training manuals, PowerPoint slides for instructor use, and self-paced eLearning, which includes some presentation-style slides, interactive practice slides, and review questions. For different projects or deliverables, like user guides and online help, I might choose a slightly different settings and outputs for this automated workflow.
I normally like to capture my images as I'm writing content to have the words that go with the picture and the picture that goes with the words. I love that SnagIt has made that process so friction-less.
When I first started freelancing, I used Adobe Technical Communication Suite for FrameMaker and Robohelp, and I really liked the simplicity of the RoboCapture tool that came with that suite. I kept using it long after I moved on from FrameMaker/Robohelp. Once Office added the ability to insert a screen clipping for Word and PowerPoint, I often used that. So it's only been recently that I've really embraced Snagit as my capture tool of choice. But I mentioned last post, I'll never go back!
In order to have a frictionless workflow for capturing images to build your library, you need to do a few things to set up your system ahead of time. While this is true with many tools, with screen captures, I had never found the need to use these features until I was staring up a mountain of work with similar content in different forms.
So here are the steps for setting up your capturing environment for use in the automatic workflow that I'll share.
I like to have a thin black border around the images for documentation, for use on PowerPoint slides and for use in self-paced eLearning materials. You can have SnagIt add this border automatically.
Note that there are several other effects that are possible to add at the same time, like adding edge effects, shadow, or scaling the image. I don't use any other effects at this time, but it's good to know that they exist, and that you can apply more than one effect at a time. With my next project that requires tons of images, I will definitely investigate applying some of those other effects automatically.
Now, your capture settings are ready to roll, and the workflow is really easy.
However, if I wanted to further modify the image (such as by taking out personal information in an example screen or add a highlight of some type, I can do that in the SnagIt Editor before I select Finish (see below). Note that the Copy to Clipboard option doesn't capture any editor modifications, so you would need to copy the final version or use the saved file if you do make changes.
Now, even though I make heavy use of copy and paste to shortcut work, I have the files saved when I come back to them in a different context.
*But I want to be completely honest about this workflow, so here's my confession. I planned to place each section in a separate folder and change the automatic name for each topic. But I sometimes forgot to change either name or folder as I was working, and I would end up with 30 or more files in one folder an hour or two later. They weren't as well-organized as I would have liked. However, it was still the quickest and most efficient way of capturing and storing images than anything I've previously tried.
I can think of some great applications for this workflow, especially when combined with single-sourcing. In the meantime, I'll keep writing and capturing those images as I go.
P.S. Here's one more caveat: SnagIt is not great at capturing itself. This blog post includes captures from both SnagIt and Word, with some additional editing done in SnagIt Editor.
Between instructor guides and student training manuals, I wrote approximately 1400 pages of content (or about 200,000 words) in 2017. To support those workshops, I developed over 400 PowerPoint slides and several quick reference guides. For self-paced training, I developed a total of about 800 eLearning slides, evenly divided between presentation style, interactive and review questions.
I produced 110 minutes of tutorial videos, and between the videos and eLearning, recorded approximately 210 minutes of narration. I wrote another 6000 words of new knowledge base content across four different software products.
After working as a localization specialist on other authors' single-source documentation for several years, I also authored my first massive single-source documentation project for both user guides and online help for a multi-module SaaS product.
In addition, in my own business as a freelancer, I wrote proposals, blog posts and even a start to my own course content.
It all feels like a pretty good accomplishment, so now I want to share the strategies and workflows that help me stay super efficient and productive.
In this post, I'll introduce you to my technology stack. What I've learned in 12 years as a freelancer, is that one tool does not do it all. I'm a big believer in using the right tool for the job, and these are the tools I've invested in on a regular basis to help me create effective content.
Words are the basis of any customer education project, whether they are delivered as guides, instructor-led training or scripts for narration work.
Images are an absolute must for technology documentation and training.
A video of under three minutes can teach a basic skill exponentially better than two or three pages of text with visuals. No one reads documentation, but as long as you keep videos short, your audience will watch and learn what they need to know.
*I have also used Adobe Premiere Pro, but find it way more power than I need for tutorial videos.
Video is just not the same if it doesn't include narration.
I worked in Authorware for a couple of years before my extended family leave from the workforce, so I was excited when I got the opportunity to add the rapid development eLearning tools to my skill set.
Project Management and Beyond
I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that all of this content takes planning and project management to stay on task and get things done. I use a combination of Evernote and Nozbe to manage tasks and projects. I also have other tools that help me run my business, including Toggl, Excel and Quickbooks, but I'll focus on content development in this blog.
Coming up, I'll be doing some deep dives about specific workflows that help me take advantage of each tool's strength, while staying efficient and effective with the task at hand.
But with the coming “knowledge tsunami,” the time has come for single-sourcing to be applied to content creation everywhere. Marc Rosenberg reports in his October 17, 2017 article in the Learning Solutions Magazine on an IBM prediction that “by 2020, knowledge will likely be doubling every 11 to 12 hours.” He says: “Establishing processes and priorities for curating and managing knowledge within and outside your organization will help you become more efficient and your knowledge products...become more effective and valued.”
Single-sourcing is one of the most powerful processes available to prepare you for riding this wave.
“Establishing processes and priorities for curating and managing knowledge within and outside your organization will help you become more efficient and your knowledge products...become more effective and valued.”
The existing definitions of single-source publishing are often dry, nerdy and use complicated words. You can get explanations from Wikipedia, MadCap Flare (one of the providers of technology supporting single-sourcing), or this one by the CEO of another technology provider, Paligo. These definitions will probably make your eyes glaze over if you're not a nerdy technical writer type.
I used this utility to make sure I could explain single-source publishing as simply as possible.
To boil it down to the essence, single source publishing is a way of writing once for many uses. It takes a bit of work up front to write in a way to use it again, and another bit of work to store the content in a way to make the pieces easy to find later.
But the payoff for the added set up is an exponential increase in efficiency and productivity. You can maintain the content pieces in an agile way to keep up with your product changes, and assemble deliverables ranging from white papers to knowledge base articles to training materials in minutes.
Single source publishing is a way of writing once for many uses. Writing and storing the content takes a little extra work at the beginning, but pays off in increased productivity, with more efficient updates across multiple outputs and audiences.
Though write once for many uses takes some up-front work, the techniques are not complicated.
A good overview starts with a summary of Anders Svensson's 5 principles*:
It is possible to over-complicate the design for reusing content. I once had a client who wanted user guides for multiple modules of multiple products with multiple licensees. As I implemented his requests one-by-one over time, the documents I'd inherited ended up getting so complicated that maintaining what amounted to hundreds of pages of content needed to be a full-time job rather than a once-every-update outsourced project.
However, in the new subscription service landscape, these principles of single-sourcing are vital not only to documentation, but to every aspect of an organization’s content creation, from customer education and success to sales and marketing.
The most successful companies will master these methods of reusing and sharing content across their organizations.
* Rosenberg, M. (2017, October 17). Marc My Words: The Coming Knowledge Tsunami. Retrieved from Learning Solutions Magazine: https://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/2468/marc-my-words-the-coming-knowledge-tsunami
* Svensson, A. (2016, January 13). The 5 Principles of Single Sourcing in Technical Documentation. Retrieved from LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/5-principles-single-sourcing-technical-documentation-anders-svensson/