12 Replies Latest reply on May 6, 2015 9:34 PM by jason102

    Automating user manual step creation


      Hi all,


      I've just started using InDesign hoping it can aid my technical writing work. I write technical manuals - basically equipment installation instruction manuals. Each step in a manual generally consists of an image showing the next action the user must perform as well as some accompanying step text explaining what the image is and what the reader must do next.


      I understand how to manually add text and image frames, as well as how to link text frames so text flows between multiple frames. However, I'm hoping I can find a way to automate the insertion of a group or set of predefined frames.


      An example: I have a 40 step installation manual. Each step has a picture showing the step's action as well as instructional text below it (almost like a caption). Each page of the manual book has 6 steps - 2 rows with 3 steps (think Landscape page orientation). Each step has exactly the same size and dimension, as well as the gaps/margins between them. The text frame beneath each step's image frame is also a fixed size.


      So I have this 40 step installation manual and I want to insert a missed step between steps 13 and 14. In order to manually do this, I must painstakingly move each step starting with 14 up one "space" across the following pages so I have room to insert the new step. That means I must move 26 steps each up a space by cutting/pasting - a very tedious task. Not to mention I must then manually renumber the steps by incrementing them by 1.


      Is there a way to define a "step content template", which contains a predefined image frame and text frame (both empty) grouped together, and then be able to somehow automatically insert this step template in the desired position (such as the new step 14) and have InDesign do all the tedious work of automatically moving all the other steps up on their multiple pages, as well as update the step numbers?


      Would appreaciate any suggestions!


      Edit: Would be nice to also be able to delete a step and have all the following steps moved back a space, as well as have the steps renumbered accordingly.

        • 1. Re: Automating user manual step creation
          smoothsea Level 3

          Hi Jason,


          A couple of solutions spring to mind:


          1. To avoid having to manually move things around when you add or delete steps, use anchored objects to place your images. Place them on the page first, then you can cut and change to the text tool to paste them inline with your text. They will then always move as you edit.

          2. To have a ready-made content area for your text and images, you could consider a three-column table with styles applied to the cells. Like anchored objects, this means that as you add or remove steps, the images will move with your text.


          Someone cleverer than me will have a solution to renumbering though if you add or remove steps.





          • 2. Re: Automating user manual step creation
            jason102 Level 1

            Hi Malcom,


            Thanks for the suggestions! Actually I think just creating 6 text frames (a frame for each step) and then inserting the images inline is the best solution. It's also possible to insert another text frame inline within the step text frame under that of the inline graphic frame to ensure a step's text won't overflow into the next step's frame with that text ending up on top of the next step's graphic, yet at the same time retain that ability to easily delete/add steps with everything following automatically updating. The only thing that would need to be done is to either add a new step frame at the end or delete the empty step frame at the end (after deleting a step somewhere). That's fine with me.


            As for the automatic step numbering, there wouldn't happen to be a way to insert a special character like that of the page number that is ordered based on where it's located within a text frame? Meaning it would know where the previous and following step special characters are (above or below it within the text), updating automatically based on that? If there's not a solution for that, it's no big deal - deleting and adding steps was the biggest issue to overcome!


            Would be curious to know if anyone else has any clever solutions?

            • 3. Re: Automating user manual step creation
              rob day Adobe Community Professional & MVP

              As for the automatic step numbering

              A paragraph can have a numbered list attribute. Look at Bullets and Numbering in the Paragraph panel flyout:

              Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 7.59.39 AM.png

              • 4. Re: Automating user manual step creation
                smoothsea Level 3

                Duh! Of course! it was a long day ... (that's my excuse anyway)


                Thanks Rob

                • 5. Re: Automating user manual step creation
                  Willi Adelberger Most Valuable Participant

                  In your case I would do following:

                  1. Set up your document in the desired size and bleed as facing pages.
                  2. In the new document change the Base Line Grid (Preferences > Grid) so, that only 2 lines come to be visible, there where your first lines of your steps are.
                  3. Set up a text frame object style with 3 columns
                  4. Set up 2 paragraph styles (additional to the Headline or other text: (NEVER WORK WITHOUT PARAGRAPH STYLES
                    1. Paragraph Style for the step text, it should align to the baseline Grid only [Text Style], next style [Image Style], auto numbering in the Paragraph Style, fixed size of leading like 10pt font, 12pt leading.
                    2. Paragraph Style for the image [Image Style], autosize of the leading
                  5. Prepare an image frame in the size you want, put it into a library.
                  6. Drag the frame into your document,
                  7. place an image into it,
                  8. cut the frame with the image into the clipbord and
                  9. change to the text tool and
                  10. insert the content of the clipbord into the image pargraph where it should be.

                  Position of the image I would in this case define precisely with the paragraph style.

                  Use a single story thread for all text frames.

                  • 6. Re: Automating user manual step creation
                    jason102 Level 1

                    Hi Willi and all,


                    Many many thanks for your responses - I just now finally got back around to this task after the weekend and a few days...


                    Willi, I have a feeling your way is the way to go, but as I'm a beginner and for the very first time opened the Paragraph Style Options dialog based on your instructions, I got stuck at step 4.



                    1. I create a new paragraph style and open up the Paragraph Style Options dialog. I can't figure out how to "align to the baseline Grid only [Text Style]" - how do I do this?

                    2. I presume the Image Style needs to be created first if it's to be specified as a "next style" for the Text Style? Sorry I'm still not even sure what Next Style means...

                    3. What does "autosize of the leading" mean? I see a "Auto Leading" percentage field in the Justification section, but maybe that's not it...?


                    In short, would it be possible for you to explain these steps in a little more detail? In the meantime I'll try to read up more about creating paragraph styles in general.


                    Thanks so much, and please let me know!

                    • 7. Re: Automating user manual step creation
                      Willi Adelberger Most Valuable Participant


                      Baseline Grid is part of the paragraph styles, one of 3 choices.

                      But to clarify how it could work, I created an example in InDesign CC 2014.2, if you are on CS4 to CS6 you can open the IDML file, but sometimes things get messed up in IDML.

                      Dropbox - User Manual with Steps EN-US.zip

                      • 8. Re: Automating user manual step creation
                        jason102 Level 1

                        Thanks Willi,


                        Yeah, my company has an older version of the software installed on my computer, so I was only able to open that .idml file, but everything seemed to be fine after opening it. Now I have a much better understanding of your explanation. You really do use a lot of paragraph styles - I'm going to have to practice using those more!


                        I'm also now realizing that this overall approach (using multiple linked text frames for the purpose of inserting/deleting steps conveniently and automatically moving the following steps forward or backward a space) has its disadvantages. Once you insert an anchored image object in the text frame, it can be difficult to do resizing/alignment work for images that are of different sizes or in the case where you need more space for text.


                        For example, the first step of the current manual I'm working on requires just 3 lines of text. However the 2nd step requires 7 lines. (Yes, I know this is contradicting my original intention of keeping everything the same size.) So I had to make the image frame and image itself for that step smaller. And to make things worse, my colleague made 2 separate images that I actually wanted to use for 1 step, meaning I had to insert an additional anchored image object on the same text line as the first to sort of "merge" them together as if they're one image. That was fine, but then when it came to aligning the 2nd image to be centered vertically with the first image, which is a bit bigger, there was no other way except to manually move it up to be approximately centered with the bigger image using the keyboard arrow keys. (Meaning the alignment tool doesn't work because for some reason I can't select more than 1 anchored image object at a time...)


                        And because I wanted to keep the height and vertical position of each step's images consistent along it's row of steps on the page, I had to tediously add/delete text spaces above and below the first step's image (to adjust the image's location) while also resizing that image to be the same height as the second step's by manually entering the image height in the H toolbar field. (Again, I couldn't select more than one anchored image object at a time.)


                        If I wasn't using this text frame anchored object approach, doing all this alignment/resizing work would be a whole lot easier.


                        What do you think? I guess there's no solution that solves everything for me? Either I go linked text frame route for inserting/deleting steps or I instead keep the images out of the text frames for ease of alignment and resizing?

                        • 9. Re: Automating user manual step creation
                          Willi Adelberger Most Valuable Participant

                          I think to work with standard sizes and text amount (magazines and newspaper have also limited sizes) can make things automatically.

                          Anchored frames are the only way that text and reflow without moving around the images.

                          Maybe it would be helpful for you to make a second master page with only one text frame, but bigger in size?

                          Alignment of anchored frames should only be done via editing the object style, maybe that you need more object styles for different kind of images. But don't use alignment panel here. Don't move them manually as this would cause damage to any automatic placement.

                          Don't use text spaces in any case in InDesign!!!!! Use space before and after. You can resize the image frame, you can apply a different object style with different wrap settings, but don't use text spaces. This is an absolute NO-GO in any text and layout program, not in InDesign, not in FrameMaker, not in Word, not in Latex, not in Quark. Don't!

                          No, with anchored frames you can align much faster as you can change it globally via Object Styles.


                          Please, don't do things manually, use styles. If you get used to it you will see a lot of advantages.

                          • 10. Re: Automating user manual step creation
                            jason102 Level 1

                            Hi Willi,


                            I'm very slowly getting the hang of it. I do see the advantages to using the paragraph styles! Last week I pretty much didn't have any time to look into this more, but this week I have time again!


                            I think what I will do is create different document templates for different types of scenarios. For example, for some manuals we want to keep the spacing and sizes consistent 100%, and in this case what we discussed above is highly relevant. But then for others, either due to a lack of time to create optimal images that can be comfortably viewed always at a certain size or because I need more space for more text, I'll create a more flexible template and use this for some time until we can better refine our way of working. Our goal is to eventually have all of our manuals be 100% consistent.


                            Many thanks again - it's good to have forums like this with almost immediate feedback!



                            • 11. Re: Automating user manual step creation
                              Willi Adelberger Most Valuable Participant

                              You can set up your masters—as I did in the example—with primary text frames. That will give you the possibility to apply a different master with new reflow of the content on the pages. I would suggest to remain in a design raster for better looking design. Use ruler guides for it.

                              • 12. Re: Automating user manual step creation
                                jason102 Level 1

                                Got it, thanks!


                                I'm finding it tricky to define which parts of the text frame is the ImageHolder and Description parts. It can get messy trying to apply the correct style to the correct content. I guess the best way to do it is to get it just right for the first step (first column) of the frame and then copy/paste the first column's content to the other columns? That seems to work I guess...