Manual assembly - what kind of software do I need?
March 19, 2015 10:27 AM   Subscribe

I am working with a company that provides a specific type of manual, and I’d like to automate the customization process. Can you recommend a solution?

The content for the manuals already exists and the sections are currently in separate Word documents. Not all clients will require each section/module of existing content. I’d like to be able to determine exactly which content the client needs and then assemble only that content into a single Word document. Ideally, this would be in a checklist format – I would check off each of the document (or content/module) names that I want pulled into the master document, and the software would output it into the master document in the order I specify, resulting in an editable document with working headings. I would then go in and create the Table of Contents, update company-specific information, format as required, and then fine-tune with any additional customization.

Apparently Word has a Master Document function that is buggy and reportedly unusable. I’ve been looking into Word plugins like XpressDox but they’re code-heavy and I’d like it to be simple enough for anyone in the office to use. It's not a legal document, has no forms, and isn't collaborative (the content is all static and existing), so solutions like HotDocs seem like overkill for our needs.

Can you recommend software that could do this cleanly and efficiently? In my perfect world this would come with an easy interface for checking off the content I want included but I'm open to any suggestions. The content/modules can all be moved to a different platform but the output has to be in Word (the company is using Office 2013).

posted by mireille to Computers & Internet (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Adobe now owns FrameMaker, a document management/publishing system designed for exactly this kind of task. (In fact, it supported XML before the web did; the software has run on every platform imaginable for 28 years.) It's available on a monthly rental—details at the link. The Society for Technical Communication mailing lists would be an excellent place to find power users (or maybe a subcontractor).
posted by Jesse the K at 11:28 AM on March 19, 2015

Best answer: MadCap Flare does this. You're looking for topic-based authoring. You can output to Word.

Getting Word content into Flare is relatively easy. Tagging everything (and setting up the tables of contents) so you'll get the customised manuals you need is what'll take the time - though that'll be the bulk of the time whatever tool you use.
posted by minsies at 1:05 PM on March 19, 2015

Response by poster: Topic-based authoring - thank you for the search term, that's exactly it. MadCap Flare looks excellent and I'm downloading the trial now. Thank you!
posted by mireille at 2:49 PM on March 19, 2015

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