Perhaps you’ve heard of the S1000D standard. You’d like to introduce it to your company and embrace the possibilities it offers. Or maybe you haven’t got the slightest idea what it actually is and you want to figure out if it’s of any use. Either way, this article is for you.
For starters, S1000D is a highly specialized standard for creating documentation in the XML format (probably the friendliest and the most flexible of the currently used formats). It originated specifically for military aircraft, but nowadays it’s also commonly used when describing land-based and marine equipment, military and commercial alike.
S1000D: what is it about?
Firstly, it’s about segmenting our document into separate data modules that are integrated into a hierarchical structure. Such modularisation makes reusing the same or similar content in various sections of our documentation way easier. Secondly, it’s about preparing very detailed rules for all of our content. These rules not only define the shape of our document, but they also basically govern every single content element. In this way, we’re in total control and we’re significantly reducing the risk of deviating from our organisation’s hard-and-fast regulations.
For instance, we can specify that all our procedures start with a header in a particular font and colour, next we’ve got information on who’s performing the procedure, how long the procedure takes and what tools are needed to perform it, and this is followed by the description of steps along with the result and links to related procedures. Or we can configure a given field in such a way that it accepts only one type of units to avoid situations like the one when NASA lost a 125-million-dollar-worth Martian orbiter, because one team provided the distance in miles, rather than in kilometres.
For us, technical writers, the advantage of using S1000D is that the system immediately serves the relevant XML template with a ready set of tags (which we might even not see at all if our editor is user-friendly and has an advanced interface). As formatting is defined down to the last detail, we can focus on the content alone.
Migrating to S1000D on your own might prove quite problematic, which is why the best option is to save yourself the trouble and ask a professional for advice. In our experience, the whole process can be broken into four discrete steps.
Step 1: At the beginning, we need to choose a tool that supports the S1000D standard AND is easy to use. Don’t take this step lightly! We’ve been in the tech comms industry for many many years and, unfortunately, we know only too well what happens when you choose software in a hurry. A work that could have been quite pleasant turns into sheer horror.
Step 2: Then the most important step takes place. Defining rules. At this stage we’re setting up our tool so that it can produce documents that adhere to our standards. It’s also our job to provide adequate templates to technical writers. These templates should contain useful hints and prompts: for the writers this equals help and comfortable work, for the company this equals minimal chances of having wrong and/or inconsistent content.
Step 3: Another step is deciding on the output format. S1000D offers a full spectrum of options: from print-ready PDFs, through webpages, up to Interactive Electronic Technical Publication (IETP) – a format optimised for desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Step 4: Finally, we need to include our documentation in the existing workflow: content reviews, attaching the final document to the product, archiving, etc. Luckily, in S1000D all information is stored electronically so we can easily add our documentation to any databases or PLMs.
I’ve already mentioned modularisation. It supports reuse and makes our work safer – the changes affect only selected modules so there’s no worry that we’ll accidentally mess something up elsewhere.
We’re also going to get the whole required content in the required form. Any shortcomings and deficiencies are very easy to spot, which makes them also very easy to fix. What’s more, we’re making sure the documentation is consistent and errors are scarce.
A future-proof solution, S1000D is based on generally accepted international standards so there’s no risk our documentation turns out to be incompatible with any guidelines. Apart from that, we can freely choose how to produce our content as all the formats mentioned in the previous section originate from a single source. In other words, should we ever decide to move from, for example, printed manuals to a webhelp, it will be a walk in the park.
All this lets us save time and money – a value no business can neglect.
If you’d like to find out how your company can swiftly and painlessly migrate to the S1000D standard, feel free to contact us. We know the answers to all your queries.