RoboHelp Snippets: Benefits and Limitations

snipping thread

Have you ever used RoboHelp (or other) snippets?

I have experience with RoboHelp, so I’ll stick to that, though I know that other help authoring tools have similar features. I think snippets are great, but (in RoboHelp, at least) they do have their limitations.

What’s a snippet?

A snippet is a bit of text with formatting, or even an image, that you put aside to use again. (Microsoft Word has something similar, called the Scrapbook.)

Let’s say you frequently give out your company’s contact info, and you always write it the same way, with the same bits in bold, and the same phrasing:

Want to talk to us? Call TODAY at: blah blah blah blah!

Rather than write that same thing a dozen times (probably introducing some inconsistency along the way), you can save it as a snippet. Then when you want to add that text to a topic, you just drag and drop it. And when you change the snippet, all instances of that text change throughout your help.

There are plenty of resources out there to tell you the steps, but I’ll just mention how I use snippets, and the one major limitation I’ve found while using them.

How I use snippets

I use snippets just about any time I think I’ll repeat myself, but I use them most often for procedural steps.

For example, let’s say that steps one and two for many procedures say:

  1. Double-click the app icon.
  2. Click the Home button.

From there, the procedures depart. So I write and format steps one and two just the way I want them, then save them as a single snippet. Whenever I need those steps in a topic, I drag and drop them from my snippets to the topic.

Then I know three things:

  1. Each time those steps are in the help, they’re exactly the same (saving on translation cost as well as eliminating the possibility for inconsistency of terms).
  2. If I want to change one of the steps, I can change the snippet, and all the steps that use the snippet will automatically and immediately update.
  3. I can drag the snippet to my Resource Manager, and use it in other RoboHelp projects where it would come in handy. If I didn’t use a resource manager, I could still import the snippet from any project.

By the way, I don’t usually use snippets for contact info (despite my example at the beginning of this post), because I prefer to have a single “contact’ topic that I link to from other places.

But snippets aren’t everything I’d want them to be.

The limitations

One limitation of snippets is that they can be hard to keep track of, or even to remember whether a certain one exists. As far as I know, there’s no good method for organizing them within the Snippets pod. They all just sort of sit there.

But the limitation that bothers me the most is that snippets must always be on a separate line from other items in a topic. I can’t introduce a snippet into a line of text.

Let’s say that I frequently write the following fruity phrase at the end, or in the middle, of a sentence:  including five lemons and a kiwi.

I’d like to add that phrase to end of a sentence, but if it’s a snippet, I can’t. I have to add the snippet on its own line, which ruins what I’m trying to do.

But, limitations aside, I find snippets to be helpful to my work, and I hope they get even easier to use in future releases.

Do you use snippets? Do you have advice, suggestions, or questions about them?

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