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MadCap Flare: How to Update Stylesheets


In the Madcap world of Flare (yes, I promise never to say that again), you can use stylesheets to give your tech docs a real edge.

For me, styles are one of the hidden secrets in Flare.

So, if you plan to publish your tech docs to PDF, Web, or HTML5, a crash course in CSS styles is maybe what you need.



How to Update Style Sheets

The nice thing about Madcap Flare is that you can control the design and layout with style sheets.

The ‘not so nice’ thing is that the UI takes a bit of getting used to. Once you understand how it works, it’ll be fine.

So, how do you start playing around with style sheets and jazzing up your online help?

You can change the colour, fonts, and layout of your online help (and printed documents), use the Stylesheet Editor.

To find this puppy:

  1. Go to Content Explorer, Resources, Stylesheets.
  2. Right-click or double-click on the style sheet to open the Stylesheet Editor.
  3. The Stylesheet Editor has two views:



  1. NB: If the list of styles is overwhelming, click Hide. This tidies things up and makes it easier to use.


Filtering the list of Styles

  1. By default, Show all Styles is displayed.
  2. If you click on the drop-down menu, you can select the Table, Images, or Headings This helps if you just want to work on a specific style family.


Filtering the Medium

  1. Medium means the output type, such as HTML5, PDF or Print.
  2. Click on the Medium drop-down menu, and select the output type you want to modify.
  3. Pay attention to this as you don’t want to change the wrong CSS settings.


Filtering Properties

  1. Click this drop-down menu to view the properties alphabetically, by property groups, or other settings.
  2. Advanced v Simplified View
  3. Click View Advanced to switch back to the View Simplified.


That’s it for this week.

Let me know if you run into any problems with your stylesheets. Sometimes one small setting can throw everything out of kilter.

Are we friends on Facebook? If not, jump over here.

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MadCap Flare: Conditional Text 101


Conditional text is one of those writing tactics technical writers love to talk about… but never seem to use.

It’s a shame as conditional tagging can save you a lot of time, especially if you have technical documents which share 90% of the content but the other 10% needs to be tweaked for each release.

This is where conditional tagging comes in.

Applying Condition Tags to Online Content

Before we get into it, we should explain a little bit about conditional tags.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you have a core product set, but you modify the product name for different clients. Instead of find/replace by hand, you can apply conditional tags that tell Flare:

  • If content contains product name 1, apply tag 1
  • If content contains product name 2, apply tag 2
  • If content contains product name 3, apply tag 3

Why use Conditional tags?

Madcap Flare definition: A condition tag is a marker that you can apply to different areas of your content so that some sections show up in some of your outputs but not in others. It is just one of the many single-sourcing features that you can use in Madcap Flare.

After you create condition tags, you can apply them to the appropriate content in your project.

For example, you can apply condition tags to:

  • Topics
  • Images
  • Stylesheets
  • Skins
  • Files
  • Paragraphs
  • Text within paragraphs
  • Table rows and columns
  • Table of contents (TOC) entries
  • Index keyword markers.

Applying Condition Tags to Online Content

How to apply condition tags to text:


  1. In the Primary Target, click Conditional Text.
  2. For each tag, click the Include or Exclude check boxes.


  1. Open the content.
  2. Select the text to which you want to apply the condition tag.
  3. Select the Home ribbon, Attributes section, Conditions.


If you want to apply a condition tag to selected text in a paragraph:

  • In the XML Editor, select the text.
  • In the Project Organizer, open the Conditional Text folder and expand the condition tag set.
  • Drag the condition tag to the selected text in the XML Editor.
  1. For each condition tag you want to apply, click the check box next to the tag.
  2. Click OK, then Save.

Checking Conditional Text Settings in the Primary Editor

You can tell Madcap Flare to include or exclude content as follows:

  1. Open the Primary Target.
  2. Click Conditional Text.
  3. For each tag, click the Include or Exclude check boxes.


This tells Madcap to apply these settings to the conditional text.

Still doesn’t work?

Check that you have the Show / Hide Conditional Indicator button turned on.


This is on the lower right of the XML Editor. When you turn this on, the conditional tags color code should be displayed.

Now, rebuild the content – does it work?

Hop over to our Facebook Tech Writers page and let us know.

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Madcap Flare: Snippets 101


Snippets? Sounds familiar but what are they?

In the Madcap world of Flare, snippets are content ‘fragments’ you can re-use in different parts of your Madcap Flare projects.

Use snippets to insert:

  • Text
  • Tables
  • Images
  • Video

Why Use Snippets

If you find yourself typing the same text over and over, create a snippet instead.


Create the content once instead of re-typing and reformatting it for each topic.

If you want to modify a snippet, change its contents and the text is automatically updated everywhere that the snippet is added.

Snippets are contained in .flsnp files (flare snippets).

You can share them with other authors or use them in other projects.


Default Save location

Snippet are saved in the Content Explorer in the Resources\Snippets folder by default.

However, you can store it anywhere in the Content Explorer that you like.

Creating New Snippets

There are two ways to create a snippet.

  • Create Snippets From Existing Content — If you have already created content and want to use it as a snippet, use the Home ribbon or Format menu. Insert the snippet into other topics where you want it to appear.
  • Add Snippets — Add a new snippet and insert it into the topics.


To create new snippets from existing content:

  1. Open the topic.
  2. In the XML Editor highlight the content that you want to turn into a snippet.
  3. In the Home ribbon, select Create Snippet.
  4. In the Snippet File field, type a new name for the snippet. After the snippet is created, you can see it in the Content Explorer.
  5. If you want the snippet to replace the highlighted text in the topic, select the Replace Source Content with the New Snippet check box.
  6. Click Create. The snippet is surrounded by brackets (if markers are turned on).
  7. Save.

Inserting Snippets

After you’ve created a snippet, you can insert it into a topic.

You can do this by using the ribbon or drag an existing snippet from the Content Explorer or File List window pane.

How to insert a snippet

  1. Open your file.
  2. Place your cursor where you want to insert the snippet.
  3. In the Insert ribbon, select Snippet. The Insert Snippet Link dialog box opens.
  4. Navigate to the snippet that you want to insert and select it.
  5. Click OK. The snippet is inserted and is surrounded by brackets (if markers are turned on).
  6. Save your work.


Editing Snippets

When you edit a snippet, the changes are automatically updated in every topic where you inserted the snippet.

How to edit a snippet

  1. To open the snippet:
  • Right-click on the snippet in a topic where it is inserted and select Open Link OR
  • Locate the snippet in the Resources\Snippets folder in the Content Explorer and double-click it.madcap-flare-snippet-5
  1. In the XML Editor update the snippet.
  2. Click Save.

Did that help?

Did it give you any new ideas on how to create your web help or tech docs? Fess up, stranger.

Oh yeah, we’re over here on Facebook.

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How to Create (Stunning) Web Forms


Creating web forms is harder than you’d think. Yes, it looks easy but…

Before I forget — try Formstack if you want stunning-looking web forms.

So, let’s say you’re designing a form for your company’s website.

How can you make sure uses don’t get frustrated, impatient, or annoyed and leave your site?

The last thing you want is to get someone to your site, then see them hit the Back button because one field confused them.

When designing forms, you have (at least) five HTML form elements to play with:

  1. Drop-down box
  2. Radio buttons
  3. Check boxes
  4. Type-in box
  5. Hyperlinks

But which should you use?

It’s the wrong question, isn’t it?

In form design there’s no ‘one size fits all.’

We need to determine which element works best — at each stage in the form design.

Sarah Miller and Caroline Jarrett [PDF] suggest four steps for choosing web form elements:

  1. Is the page for navigation or information gathering?
  2. How will your choice impacts the form?
  3. How will it affect your users and their interactions?
  4. Use these six questions to narrow down the choice of form element for each question on your form.

The six question are…

  1. Is it more natural for the user to type the answer rather than select it?
  2. Are the answers easily mis-typed?
  3. Does the user need to review the options to understand the question?
  4. How many options are there?
  5. Is the user allowed to select more than one option?
  6. Are the options visually distinctive?

You agree with this approach?

Before you leave, can you answer this?

What’s the worst mistake you’ve seen in form design?

What site nails it for form design?

If you had a magic wand, the one thing you’d change….

PS – If you want to design web stunning forms, take the free trial on Formstack.

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Web Help: 5 Index Guidelines


Do you provide an index for your online documents?

I’m not sure if today’s customers actually want an index. Maybe they prefer to search.

Of course, not everyone agrees with me.

Lori Lathrop, author of An Indexer’s Guide to the Internet, helps firms index their technical publications for software, manufacturing, and science.

She highlights four points when indexing documentation:

  1. Document Type — product documentation, user guide, operations manual, etc.
  2. Terminology — industry-specific, product-specific, and author-specific.
  3. Audience characteristics — background, education, current skills, familiarity with your product or competitive products.
  4. Audience objectives — needed skills, tasks to be performed.

A nice set of guidelines to get us started.

But what about if you’re moving your documents online.

Do you still need to index the content?

Does a good Search function replace the need for an index?

Indexing Online Help

The team at Adobe RoboHelp provides the following guidelines when creating an index for online help:

#1 Prioritize user needs first

  • Focuses on their tasks and way of thinking.
  • Consider their backgrounds and knowledge.
  • Use words and phrases they’re likely to think of when looking for information.
  • Users can and do form impressions about the usefulness and value of a Help file based on their experience with the index – and in this case, perception is reality.

If they can’t locate information in the index, users may doubt whether or not the information exists in the Help file. If users are consistently taken to the wrong topics or to unexpected topics, they may doubt the accuracy of the Help file.

#2 Index the most important words

  • Include only those words and phrases your users are most likely to look up.
  • You don’t have to index every word or phrase – like “About” or “Working with.”
  • For ideas on good index entries, look at the features and content of your Help system – topic titles, headings, tables, examples, and so on.
  • Include terms commonly used by both beginners and experts.

#3 Provide multiple ways to access the same information

  • As user may not be familiar with the terms and concepts used in your Help system, provide synonyms and alternate index entries.
  • Include verbs, noun phrases, and synonyms to reach the widest range of users.
  • Index your competitors’ terms, too – users may not know the name of the feature in your Help system, but they might know what it’s called in your competitors system.

#4 Use consistent access routes

  • Use consistent phrasing throughout the index.
  • Include inverted terms and headings – what the command is as well as what the command does.

This approach helps users find information regardless of whether they’re looking for the command or the action the command accomplishes. (For example, Printing:Landscape, Landscape:Printing.)

#5 Provide enough detail for users to choose

  • Provide enough description with your index entries so users can determine which path to choose.
  • Users should be able to tell the difference between index entries that lead them to conceptual overviews and entries that lead them to tasks.

I’m still in two minds about creating an index. What do you think?

Is providing an index a thing of the past?

Do users prefer a search engine to an index instead?