Here at Armada Technical Witers our technical authoring team use a wide variety of applications to create documentation and we feel it is important to keep our skills updated. Earlier this week I completed a refresher course on MadCap Flare with the intention of using this product on my next technical authoring project. With complex applications such as Flare I find attending a professional course the most effective way of developing skills. Having direct access to a trainer allows for specific scenarios to be envisaged and walked through together.
The most recent versions of Robohelp and MadCap Flare are very alike, both the functions and the generated output can almost match (with a little work). However, Flare has a few additional features which I would like to apply in projects to make life a little easier.
Images can be added quickly using MadCap’s Capture application. In Robohelp I have been editing screenshot images using Photoshop and importing them into the project. Capture looks like a great alternative which will do the job for most of cases.
Flare gives you the option of adding images to topics in a way that suits you. Hover over expanding thumbnails are a particular favourite. These allow for larger images to be added to projects without sacrificing page space.
Developing stylesheets is straight forward, if at first appearing a little techier than Robohelp. In Robohelp you can build a stylesheet with tools similar to those used in Word, these seem very familiar and user friendly. Flare allows more techy users direct access to the CSS coding using Notepad or Text Editor. Less confident coders can build stylesheets in Flare using the Style Sheet Editor.
A global project of key files, such as stylesheets and images can be set up and maintained centrally. These files can be accessed by multiple users but updated centrally as required. This is useful for holding generic master pages, layouts and styles which you have proven to work with certain project types.
The output for responsive HTML5 is very contemporary and can be adjusted to suit each project. The top navigation output looks familiar to users; it is very similar to WordPress developed websites. The design and layout of this output can be easily tweaked for different devices. Overall this function in Flare seems a little easier to use than in Robohelp, although the end result is very similar.
The cross referencing tool in Flare is useful if you are developing output for PDF. Much like Microsoft Word’s cross referencing tool, the page number of your cross reference section is automatically added to the document. This seems to be more reliable than similar functions I have used in Robohelp.
Flare has some excellent search tools which can be applied to projects to improve searchability. A couple of my favourites are using synonyms as keywords and allowing the index to jump to keywords in a specific part of a page within the help. These can both save users time and improve the quality of the documentation you produce.
I have covered just a few functions that I will enjoy applying in my next Flare project. You may have a few more favourites to add to the list, or others that you prefer to use in Robohelp. It would be great to know your thoughts.
As technical writers, the majority of our work is based on translating technical jargon, making complex tasks more easily understandable and forming knowledge bases for new and existing users