Single-Sourcing Content to Reduce Risk and Save Cost

One of the major concepts to understand when determining the documentation method you intend to implement for technical content is Single-Sourcing. Basically Single-Sourcing is an approach to gathering content, organizing it into meaningful chunks of information, and storing it in a single repository, which can be used to generate and deploy multiple views of the content for a variety of uses.


The concept has evolved from mark-up languages like SGML and XML, and now is mostly employed in databases of information meta-tagged for a variety of purposes. In the current use of Single-Sourcing, the content is typically gathered by using a per-defined template for organizing the critical components for the content. For example an input template for a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) would normally include a place to write (and store) the purpose, scope, minimal requirements, terms, responsibilities, procedures with steps, contact information and revision history. While an input template for a product would contain product description, features, functions, parts, controls, and other important information.

With each specific type of the content structure (procedure, process, protocol, etc.) there will always be a set up support materials that must be created, like checklists, quick reference cards, detailed job aids. So organizing the content into a single well-structured repository (single-source) will make all the needed content available for use in the associated support formats by using output templates for display requirements.

Using Single-Sourcing

When a single-source system is used, the author can write the content once and use it in many related formats at the click of a button. This, obviously, will reduce the time and cost required to generate the associated materials, but it will also provide the organization with much better control over the content used, much better consistency in the look and feel of the associated materials, and much easier way to trace the content and make updates or revision for instant availability.

There are three keys to a well-developed single-souring system:

  • Input Model – The structure of the input model for the specified content type will help organize the content into easily defined knowledge objects resulting is more complete content definitions
  • Data Structure – the content repository must revolve around a well-define set of data structures. By this I mean the procedure must be tagged properly, the list of steps must be saved and used in checklists, the step details must be available for quick reference cards, or training screens, and the assessment items need to be structured to provide quizzes when necessary.
  • Output Templates – the single-source repository is only useful when it can automatically generate multiple formats for support materials. This basically transforms the information into well-organized outputs using templates that provide consistent, concurrent and compliant information.

Authored by Peter J. Rizza, Jr., PhD, Founder, Princeton Center for Education Services, Inc.