Why Use MadCap Flare?

Firstly, what is it?

MadCap Flare is a piece of software used for “single sourcing”. This means that you write content in small sections, topics, or by chapter. From one project you can create larger documents, books, manuals, websites, pdfs, and brochures (and many other formats) all at once. You can have multiple projects and link content together or have one project with all your content and just output what you need when you need it.

At the click of a button, you can have your new product website and literature all created and updated in no time.

MadCap Software

MadCap Flare is one of a suite of tools created by MadCap Software. Other services include their “Central” system for working on documents and content with a remote team and allows automatic online publishing tasks to be performed.

Importing content from other sources

MadCap Flare will allow you to import content that has been written in all the usual applications, such as Microsoft Word, Excel, RoboHelp and many other formats. Pieces of content can be copied and pasted from literally anywhere.

You can import images and logos into the project, or you can simply link them to a specific file location on a network drive. Then for example if your marketing department updates your company logo and saves it in the same location with the same file name, your document will display the new logo automatically the next time you output a document.

Working in MadCap Flare

The basics of writing in MadCap is very similar to other word processing apps. You write your words and separate it out for clarity using headings, lists, tables, and other styles.

You write your content in smaller files called “topics” which are later combined into the various outputs. This means that you can mix and match topics, reorder and reuse them, and set conditions for when parts of the text should be used or ignored.

Because the software is xml (code) based, you will (almost) never apply text formatting whilst you are writing. You instead create a stylesheet with all the possible variants for text styles and other page elements. Then you apply those styles throughout the content using toolbar options. This means that if you later on want to change e.g. a heading colour from green to blue, then you simply change it in the stylesheet settings and the whole document is updated in a few seconds. Without using a stylesheet, if you have 500 pages with multiple headings per page, and want to change the heading colour, you will have to manually go through them one by one!

The other advantage of using the stylesheets is that you can have MORE THAN ONE! So with the same project you can have the website look one way, your brochure look another way, and your technical manual with a third distinct format.

MadCap Flare allows you to include variables and conditional (tagged) text, which means that you can set a variable for e.g. the document title, and then have a variation automatically swapped out for different requirements. Conditional text allows you to ignore some bits of the content, or entire topics, when they are not needed.

Setting up the Outputs

Writing all your content is the first step, after which you will want to actually create a document (or website, or whatever!). For documents you create page layouts, which is where you can set the header and footer, page numbers, etc. for the main pages. You can have many different page layouts which can be applied to specific sections of your document to change the formatting throughout. Your title page is again another page layout. For websites, you use master pages, which are very similar, but have some additional features specific to the more dynamic nature of a website.

In order for MadCap Flare to know which content to put where, you create a Table of Contents (TOC) file. This is an ordered list of all the topics and groupings that you want the document to have, and where you tell it to start page and section or chapter numbering from, which page layouts to use, and other settings. You can have more than one TOC for multiple documents or have one that uses tagging to exclude some sections from different files. You can put the content in any order you wish.

Lastly you create the “target” document type that you want to create. You can output as a pdf, an MS Word document, an HTML5 website, and many others. You can set up a group of targets, so that with one click you have created all of your files in one go.

Updating Documents

Modifying and updating content is very easy. You make your changes and wherever that topic is used, the next time you output the files the change is applied.

MadCap will also work with Apache Subversion and other version control management software allowing you to keep track of and return to previous versions.

Examples of MadCap based Websites and Documents

In my previous life I created and worked on a wide range of websites and documents for BRE Ltd. A couple of examples of which are as follows:

More information

For more specific information on MadCap Flare, visit their product website.

For more information on what I can do for you using this tool, visit my Documentation Design Services Page, or contact me.

Published by Julia Barnard MBA

Technical Writer, Web Content Author, Digital Marketing Strategist, MBA, LCA Practitioner, Scientist

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