Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Some New Features in MadCap Flare 2017 R3


MadCap released Flare 2017 R3 a few days ago. In this post, I’ll look at two of the new features that I think are most useful.

Text Analysis

In the past, one problem that I had while writing topics was that I couldn’t determine the readability of the topic content. Flare didn’t offer a readability checker. I had to output a Word target and run that through Word’s readability checker. This process worked but was a bit clumsy. The new text analysis feature seems to offer a simple solution to that problem.

Selecting Text Analysis on the Tools ribbon opens the Text Analysis pane, shown below.



I selected the readability scores option for one topic (from the basic training class), shown below, with the results also shown below.


Flare shows good results with a green bar color, fair with yellow, and poor with red. So this topic has a fair reading ease score of 76 and a good grade level score of 3.9. (Both actually excellent.) I can check any content from one topic to an entire project.

Be aware of one thing when using this feature. If you copy the content in this topic, paste it into Word, and generate the readability statistics in Word, you’ll get different results. When I tried it, Word gave a readability of 65.1 and a grade level of 7.0, both still excellent but different from Flare’s results. This may be caused by Flare’s using the same "Flesch Reading Ease” and “Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level” algorithms as Word but with different options enabled. (We can’t yet modify those options in Flare.) This peculiarity aside, I’m delighted to see the text analysis feature because it simplifies my Flare workflow.

Style Inspector

The Style Inspector is a short-cut way to perform stylesheet tasks without opening the full Stylesheet Editor. It lets you see what styles your text is using, modify a style’s properties, add new properties to a style, add a comment to a style, even convert local formatting to a style on the stylesheet.

Selecting Formatting Window in the Styles group on the Home ribbon opens the Formatting pane with the Style Inspector tab selected, as shown below.


In this example, I put the cursor on the topic’s title in the left pane and:

  • The Style Inspector on the right tells me that the title uses h1, the font-size is 140%, and so on.
  • There are no local style attributes, as indicated by that empty pane at the top.
  • I could add local formatting by clicking the + sign in the top pane or an additional property by clicking the + sign in the lower pane.
  • I could change the value of one of the properties by clicking the ellipsis to the right of that style.
  • I can see what style sheet is controlling this style, here “ipswitch_styles.css” and see the path to that stylesheet by hovering over its name.
  • I can add a comment to a style by clicking any property of the style, right-clicking the style itself, and selecting Add Comment. You must click on one of the properties first.

All without having to open the Stylesheet Editor. (However, the stylesheet opens in the Stylesheet Editor if you add a property or change the value of a property since you’ll have to save the stylesheet to register that change or addition.)

Summary

I like how the Style Inspector makes it easy to manage my style usage. Personally, I still prefer to go into the full Stylesheet Editor but using the Style Inspector means I don’t have to. That’s useful if you’re new to styles and find the Stylesheet Editor overwhelming.

I especially like the text analysis feature because it’s completely new and solves a problem – the inability to get readability statistics in previous versions of Flare.

Between these two features, plus Microsoft Excel file import, last action repeat, a thesaurus, and some snazzy new templates, Flare 2017 R3 is a solid and useful release.
  

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