Madcap Flare – the unbind option in conditional tags

Madcap Flare, the Help authoring tool, allows you to “single-source” using conditional tags. You can show or hide paragraphs, images, glossaries, TOC entries, bookmarks, content files such as style sheets, page layouts, topics, and so on. I am not going to talk about the steps involved in producing multiple results from one source (for more information on conditional tags and how to display content selectively in outputs, see Madcap Flare’s Web Help).
I just want to write about a Madcap Flare feature that I like – the unbind option in Conditional tags.
As Flare offers a bit of structured authoring, some similar style items are ordered (bound) together. At least this is the case with Lists, Drop-down text and Expandable texts. Flare does not restrict you if you insert a Heading 2 immediately after Heading 3 or such. However, within lists and drop down text Flare does not let you directly add a new style. If you press “Enter”, after a bullet, you only get a bullet on the next line. So you need to copy a style and use the Paste before or Paste after option to insert a Heading 1 style between two bulleted items for example. Alternatively, you can use the unbind option to remove the style completely and make paragraphs after which you can apply the style you want.

Okay now back to conditional text and how the unbind option is useful here.

Let’s say you want to provide two outputs – Help topic for a. for new administrators who may need more information and b. administrators who know the product well. For the new administrators you want to provide a hyperlink to an installation procedure, whereas for the existing users you just need to display the text.
The text currently reads:

You want to display the same text without bullets and hyperlinks for existing users. To do that follow these steps:
1. Open a Flare topic and go to Projects > Conditions to define a conditional tag set.

2. Next create two tags in the tag set you have created – Existing and New.

3. Select the list or text or hyperlink or drop-down or image for which you want to apply conditions. Right-click and Select Conditions.
4. In the Condition Tags window, select Existing Admin Tag and in Exclude Action choose Unbind.

You have created a conditional tag set and created two tags. You have applied these to hyperlinks that you now want to apply to appear as text only to existing admins. Next you need to associate the conditional tags with a target. To do that

1. Go to Project Organizer > Targets.
2. Create two new targets – one for existing users and one for new users.

3. Double-click the target for existing users.
4. In the Target Editor, select a tag set and to exclude the applied tag from the output select Exclude.

5. Save your work. Build the outputs and view the results.

Note: In this case, the selected output will still be displayed without the hyperlinks as you have selected the Unbind option. So existing admins see the two hyperlinks as text. New users will see the links.

Similarly, you can unbind images from expand text, bulleted list, snippets, files, etc.

Writing for applications accessed through mobile phones and touch-screen-enabled devices

As mobile phones and other handheld devices start offering exciting technologies and tools to users, the way information is accessed too varies. Mobiles are no more used for only calling – they are used for accessing email, playing games, sending text and multimedia messages, transacting on bank websites, shopping online, and social networking. Tablets such as the iPad from Apple, Galaxy from Samsung, Streak from Dell, Slate from HP, are trying to combine the best of the laptop and smartphone worlds while reading devices like the Kindle from Amazon offer a new reading experience.

Meanwhile, touch screens have become common on mobile phones and other devices.

 Technical writers are in for an interesting phase as writing for such users offers newer challenges. Some observations:
  • The devices are all small meant to be used anywhere. So any content has to be primarily for online purposes (no one will want to lug a printer on the bus :)) 
  • User attention spans are shorter
  • Smaller devices although convenient in terms of access are not great for doing “work”
  • Users find it difficult to read when the pages scroll too much or when there are too many pages to jump through 
  • Users will probably do other things – like attending a call in between tasks 
  • Users might want to share information and would look to post content to websites and friends

Therefore, if users need help or information, they will think of the user guide as a last option. The information in user help has to be crisp and to the point. This requires a lot of planning. The TOC should be for example very high level as smartphones are not great for navigation back and forth across screens. Procedures have to be real short. If the user requires more information, provide a link to that. But watch out – too many links make it tough to navigate. Avoid images as a rule.


Navigation gets complex as you need to deal with both touch and standard screens. Screens are smaller or larger and any content has to look fine both vertically and horizontally. The next advance would be double sided mobiles! The terminology you use to describe anything has to be spot on. Tap or Touch? Touch or Select? Tap or Type? Enter or Type? Slide or Drag? Standard key pad or inbuilt? Expand or Enlarge? Popup or Window? Window or Screen? Hold or press? And I have not listed click at all. These are key questions.

The scenario is even more complicated as each device has its own operating system, user interface, icons, navigations methods, and standards.

Currently, Madcap Flare supports Mobile Help output (similar to Webhelp) while RoboHelp provides Mobile output through an eReader.

Flare’s output is supposed to work across browsers and multiplatforms – in Blackberry, iPhone, Android, and Windows Mobile (not yet Tablets?). But developers in my project cringed when I said the output would have some JavaScript as Android does not support it. Blackberry too has some image display issues.

So before you plan a user guide or online help for Mobile devices, get your information plan crystal clear.

 Another critical aspect is that users will “search” for information by typing in keywords. Other navigation aids such as TOCs and index won’t be so useful.

Therefore, plan your content in such a way that search will yield the desired results.

Flash and heavy graphics may not work well – so user experience designers had better look at HTML and other technologies.

By design these mobile devices will test anyone’s patience. These devices are positioned for those on the go – students, working professionals, and fun lovers. Thus, such users will be impatient when they are seeking information.

More on this coming up…