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Learning Author-it

Char James-Tanny

Edited by Rhonda Bracey
Indexed by Sue Heim


Copyright © 2002–2011Char James-Tanny. All rights reserved.

No part of this work may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means–graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or information storage and retrieval systems–without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The information in this book is provided on an “as is” basis, without warranty. While every effort has been taken by the author and XML Press in the preparation of this book, the author and XML Press shall have neither liability nor responsibility to any person or entity with respect to any loss or damages arising from the information contained in this book.

This book contains links to third-party websites that are not under the control of the author or XML Press. The author and XML Press are not responsible for the content of any linked site. Inclusion of a link in this book does not imply that the author or XML Press endorses or accepts any responsibility for the content of that third-party site.

XML Press and the XML Press logo are trademarks of XML Press.

Author-it™ is a trademark of Author-it Software Corporation Ltd (http://www.author-it.com).

All terms mentioned in this book that are known to be trademarks or service marks have been capitalized as appropriate. Use of a term in this book should not be regarded as affecting the validity of any trademark or service mark.

With the exception of the front and back covers, this document was created using Author-it™, the total component content management solution. All screenshots were created with SnagIt by TechSmith Corporation (http://www.techsmith.com), using the library "sample.adl" provided by Author-it Software Corporation Ltd.

First Edition
ISBN: 978-0-9822191-8-8

To Rhonda and Sue
Because nit-picky friends (who have your back) are the best :-)

Customizing Objects for Different Outputs

Using Conditional Content

Duplicating Objects

Learning about Templates

Adding New Templates

Modifying Templates

Learning about Styles

Understanding the Style Templates

Working with Style Definitions

Duplicating a Style

Creating a Style to Precede and Follow Tables

Using the Default Style Guide

Using Media Objects

Customizing Books

Creating Different Books

Modifying the Book Object Print Tab

Modifying the Book Object Help Tab

Modifying the Book Object Web Tab

Customizing the Title Page Object

Customizing the Table of Contents

Customizing the Topic Object Settings

Using the Topic Properties Dialog Box

Customize the Topic Heading Style for Print

Customizing the Chapter or Section Superheading for Print

Omitting a Topic from the HTML Contents Tab

Understanding Related Topics

Using In This Chapter and In This Section Related Topic Links

Using Previous and Next Related Topic Links

Using Contents and Index Related Topic Links

Using See Also Related Topic Links

Using the Related Topics Tab

Creating New Related Topic Links

Customizing the Hyperlink Templates

Using the Hyperlink Object Print Tab

Using the Hyperlink Object Help Tab

Using the Hyperlink Object Web Tab

Creating Hyperlinks to Bookmarks

Customizing the File Object Templates

Using the File Object Print Tab

Using the File Object Help Tab

Using the File Object Web Tab

Using the Preview Pane in the File Object Tabs

Customizing the Index Object Template

Using the Index Object Print Tab

Using the Index Object Help Tab

Using the Index Object Web Tab

Customizing the Index Entry Object Templates

Using the Index Entry Object Print Tab

Using the Index Entry Object Help Tab


When Char James-Tanny, my good friend and colleague, told me she was going to write a book on Author-it, I told her, "It’s about time!" Then she asked if I’d like to write the Foreword, and I jumped at the chance to pay tribute to this guru of Author-it, in particular, and of Help systems in general.

I first ‘met’ Char online in the late 1990s, in the old WinHlp discussion list, when she helped out this ‘newbie’ with some issues I had getting my head around WinHelp. We finally met face-to-face at the STC Conference in Nashville in 2002, and have been firm friends and professional collaborators and colleagues since. Char and I presented a joint session on Author-it at the 2004 STC Conference in Baltimore, and have shared our vague conference ideas and draft presentations with each other since then. Some years ago, we jointly wrote an Author-it training manual, and I was astonished to find that our writing was so similar that I couldn’t tell where her writing stopped and mine started.

For the past 30 years, Char has been a technical writer/communicator, and for 20 of those years, she’s been writing online Help and developing online Help systems. But she’s more than just an excellent technical writer/communicator. Char is also one of the most knowledgeable people on the planet when it comes to online Help, and over all those years she has willingly shared her incredible and encyclopedic knowledge with others in the profession through online discussion lists and forums, through speaking at conferences, and through volunteering her time to professional organizations, among others. Her contributions have been formally recognized by Microsoft (she has been a Microsoft Help MVP for almost a decade), and in 2011 she was made an Associate Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication in recognition of her contributions to that organization and its members over many years.

Char has been using Author-it for about 10 years, a year or so longer than me. In 2003, at the STC Conference in Dallas, she and I were named the inaugural Author-it Certified Consultants by Paul Trotter, CEO of Author-it Software Corporation, in recognition of the 2000+ contributions we had each made to the Author-it user group, the conference presentations we had done on Author-it, and other help we had freely given to the Author-it user community.

Around that time, Char developed self-paced and face-to-face training materials for Author-it. I was honored to be asked to edit her work. And so it is with this book. After she told me she was going to write it, she asked me to edit it as she knows I’m as pedantic as she is about consistency and clarity of writing.

In this very practical and easy-to-understand book, Char helps you set up your Author-it environment and takes you through the fundamentals of using Author-it. Author-it is a complex and feature-filled software product for creating documentation (and managing other content). You won’t learn everything that Author-it can do in this book—you’d need a multi-volume Author-it encyclopedia for that—but you will learn the critical things you need to know to start getting the most out of this amazing software.

Learning Author-it is like having Char sitting beside you, guiding you and mentoring you through the complexities of Author-it.

Rhonda Bracey
CyberText Consulting


I was introduced to Author-it (and Paul Trotter and Ray Duncan) at the 2000 STC Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. Over the next year, I gradually started learning Author-it’s many layers—like many people, I jumped right in and then got frustrated. But thanks to people like Gretchen Rogers, former Author-it Technical Services Manager, I was able to figure out how all the pieces worked together.

By April 2001, I was participating in the old Yahoo authorit-users group. And when Rhonda Bracey and I met at the STC Annual Conference in 2002 in Nashville, we had already spent a lot of time chatting online. If one of us thought we found a bug, the other would test the steps to see if it was the software or user error. We would bounce ideas off each other as we experimented with Author-it’s functionality. We kept learning.

As more people started using Author-it, I saw a need for training. I created training materials that reflected how I like to learn. Using Author-it, I was able to produce the materials in print and as an ebook. Not only did this show some of the capabilities of Author-it, but it helped me get a solid grasp of the core concepts.

Meanwhile, Author-it kept improving. New functionality was introduced on a regular basis. Version 3 was replaced with version 4 (and, later on, with version 5). More modules were added. But the core concepts that I originally learned and worked with have only changed slightly over the years.

This book covers those core concepts. By the time you finish, you should be able to create books and topics, add hyperlinks and images, and add index entries and glossary terms. You will be able to set up security and permissions using Author-it Administrator. And you’ll be able to publish your outputs with the Publishing Console.

This book was created with Author-it (beta version 5.5). Most of the content is based on my training materials, which I have continuously updated since 2003.

I want to thank Rhonda Bracey for her superb editing and Sue Heim for her awesome indexing. Not many people would drop just about everything to help out on a project like this, and I’m so very grateful that they did. This book is better because of their work. I, however, am responsible for any mistakes that you may find.

Conventions and Standards

This book uses the following typographical conventions.

Formatting convention

Type of Information

UI Labels

Items you must select or click when using Author-it (or associated applications, such as Microsoft Word). This includes dialog box options and user interface (UI) labels.


Buttons in dialog boxes and toolbar icons.


Information you have to type.


Names of keys on the keyboard. For example, SHIFT, CTRL, or ALT.


Key combinations where you press and hold one key and then press another. For example, CTRL+S or SHIFT+CTRL+N.


Menu items are indicated with >. (These are typically shortcut menus.)

Instructions in this book are based on Windows 7. Select the appropriate commands if you are using a different operating system.


I have used the following standards in this book.

•    Dialog box. Includes buttons that you have to click, like OK or Apply.

•    Window. Doesn’t include any buttons, but does have the standard Windows minimize/maximize/close buttons, toolbar icons, etc.

•    Screen. Represents your monitor.

•    Paths. Because I don’t know where Author-it is installed on your system, I always refer to relative paths. For example, when referring to Author-it libraries, I will point to \Data\Libraries. On my system, the qualified path is C:\Author-it 5\Data\Libraries.

•    I click buttons on the screen, select menu items (including those on the shortcut menu), and press keys on the keyboard.

I cover Author-it and Author-it Administrator in this book. I do not cover the other modules offered by Author-it:

•    Author-it Aspect

•    Author-it Assist

•    Author-it DevHub Library

•    Author-it Live

•    Author-it Localization Manager

•    Author-it Offline Library

•    Author-it Project Manager

•    Author-it Xtend

In addition, I do not cover the following functionality from Author-it:

•    Author-it Importer

•    Author-it Presentations

•    Author-it Version Control

Let’s Get Started

I know you’re excited. You have installed Author-it, and now you want to create a project, add content, and publish. You want to see what you can do!

Take a deep breath. If you just jump in, you will probably be a little frustrated because Author-it works a little differently than most other documentation applications. I know, because I’ve been there. I jumped in and started working in Author-it without a good understanding of Author-it’s foundation. And I got frustrated really quickly, especially when I was trying to customize the outputs.

But by the time I created my first set of training materials in 2002, I had created a method for teaching Author-it that lets people get up-to-speed relatively quickly. I share that method in this book, which includes a lot of the content from my training materials, including more than 150 tasks on how to work in Author-it.

In addition, I often teach folks who have been using Author-it. So I include tips and tricks for people for those who are more comfortable with the interface, but who want to become more efficient.

For example, when training people on how to use Author-it, I like to start with Author-it Administrator, which is covered in Creating and Setting Up a Library with Author-it Administrator (on page 5). You use Author-it Administrator to create and license a library, apply security settings (with groups and user accounts, folder permissions, and release states), add variables, and customize your library settings. While none of these things (other than the library license) are necessary before working in Author-it, I find that it’s easier to work in Author-it if they’re in place.

If you are not a library administrator, you should read the rest of this section, and then go to Understanding the Authoring Environment (on page 63), which covers the Author-it ribbons and multiple windows, and the Author-it user options.

The two sections that follow Understanding the Authoring Environment (on page 63) cover creating and reusing content. In Creating Content (on page 87), you’ll learn about using books and topics, along with the other objects that you will use in topics, such as hyperlinks and images. I also cover creating an index and glossary. In Reusing Topic Content (on page 191), you’ll learn about the many ways that you can reuse topic objects in Author-it. Other types of reuse are covered in their respective sections. For example, you’ll learn about reusing hyperlinks and images in Working with Hyperlinks (on page 153) and Using Images (on page 166), respectively.

As you add objects to the library, you will need to be able to find, move, and organize them. Viewing, Finding, and Organizing Objects (on page 201) covers these topics and also includes using the object history, viewing object relationships, moving objects to different folders, removing and deleting objects (yes, there’s a difference), and assigning release states.

After you create content, you’ll want to see what it will look like when published. Publishing the Output (on page 235) covers "out-of-the-box" publishing. You’ll learn about the Publishing Console, which tracks all of your Publishing Profiles. These customizable publishing templates let you specify the output and its theme, and also let you filter the content that gets published. (For example, you can set your Publishing Profile to ignore all topics that you indicate are in Draft mode.)

Of course, no one ever wants to use the "out-of-the-box" settings, no matter how useful those settings are. We like to play with our outputs, customizing them to match our company branding or applying our own standards. Customizing Objects for Different Outputs (on page 249) explains some of the pieces involved in customizing your output.

Finally, an Author-it library is a database, and databases require maintenance. Maintaining the Library (on page 361) covers the various maintenance options, which are available in Author-it Administrator.

Yes, this book contains a lot of content. Because of its database and its separation of content and presentation, Author-it has many parts that must work seamlessly together to produce good output. While I agree that it has a learning curve (just like every application I’ve ever used), the issue I see most often is people making it harder than it really is. You might find it easier to understand some of the concepts and tasks in this book if you open and "play" in sample.adl, the default library provided by Author-it during installation.

Understanding Author-it Libraries

An Author-it library is a relational database that stores all Author-it data and components (known as objects). Each library contains one or more books and shared components. If you have used other Help Authoring Tools (HATs), a library is like a project on steroids.

You cannot share objects between libraries, only within a library. I strongly recommend that you only create one library. However, you may need to create other libraries if you have documentation sets, departments, or customers who do not need to share common information (including formatting and layout), or for testing purposes.


Graphic © 2008 CyberText Consulting Pty Ltd.

If you are a consultant, you will probably want to create a library for each client. If you are a company employee, you will probably create or use one shared library that everyone will work with.

Multi-authoring, or collaborative authoring, is an important concept in Author-it. More than one person can access the library at any given time (if your license allows), although they can’t edit the same object within the library at the same time.

Because a topic may include several objects, one person can edit the text in a topic object while another modifies the hyperlink or graphic objects. Author-it automatically checks to see if someone else is using the object you want to open, which is called dynamic check-in/check-out. You don’t have to worry about who else might be working in the library.

When someone opens an object, a blue padlock is displayed in the object list. If someone else tries to open the same object, Author-it displays a message. (A black padlock indicates that the object has been checked out into an offline library, a special sub-library that can be used away from the office.)

Author-it is a content management system. Bob Boiko, author of the Content Management Bible (ISBN 0-7645-4862-X), defines content management as the "overall process for collecting, managing, and publishing content to any outlet."

•   Collecting is creating or importing data and content. In Author-it, you collect your content in objects.

•   Managing is creating a repository, such as a database, and organizing it to fit your needs. In Author-it, the repository is the library.

•   Publishing is making the content available by extracting what you need out of the repository to produce usable and navigable output. In Author-it, you control which objects are included in an output by creating different books and publishing the book (or books) that you need.

Creating and Setting Up a Library with Author-it Administrator

When you first start using Author-it, you can use either Author-it Administrator or Author-it to create the library. However, if you create the library with Author-it, you must then close the library to apply the license through Author-it Administrator, so it’s easier to create the library and apply the licensing at the same time.

Author-it’s licensing is a little different from other applications. The license applies to the library, not the installation. This means that you can install Author-it on any number of computers. Your license determines how many people can open a library at the same time.

Author-it Administrator contains the properties information for the library. After you create your library, use the Author-it Administrator to set up security by creating groups and user accounts, setting folder permissions, and defining release states.

To start Author-it Administrator

Click Start > All Programs > Author-it 5 > Author-it Administrator. The main Author-it Administrator window and the Author-it library selection dialog box are displayed.

The screenshots throughout this book use sample.adl, the default library included with Author-it.

I install Author-it in C:\, not under Program Files. Your paths may not match, and that’s OK. Do not change your paths to match my installation!


In Setting the User Options (on page 72), you will learn how to modify the settings if you don’t want this dialog box to display every time you start Author-it Administrator or Author-it.

To create a Jet Library

You can create Jet libraries for publishing or testing purposes. To create SQL Server libraries, see the instructions in the Author-it Knowledge Center (http://kc.author-it.com/).

  1. Start Author-it Administrator.

    If you want to open an existing library in Author-it, see To open a library (on page 64).

  2. New Library
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