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April 21, 2015

Do’s and Don’ts – Using MadCap Mimic v7

This is an overview of creating a professional video tutorial using MadCap Mimic v7. This overview is perfect for users who have figured out the basics of Mimic, and are ready to begin filming tutorials that will be published. If you’re a more advanced user, you can learn cool tricks in the “Cool editing tricks” section. What separates Mimic from other tutorial software, besides ease of use, is the ability to efficiently make a perfect tutorial.

This article will follow our recommended workflow below for maximal efficiency:

  1. Write a script and have it revised
  2. Shoot just the visuals first (no audio yet), and revise your script again
  3. Record audio separately
  4. Edit audio and sync with visual
  5. Cool editing tricks

So let’s get started…

1 – Write a script and have it revised

First, write a thorough script: revise, edit, and have other experts revise it. Your script will likely change over time; we recommend keeping the latest version of your script in the tutorial’s .mimovf folder, as shown below, so you can edit the script as it changes.

I should mention we like to use source control with our video projects. This helps keep things in check for your peer reviews and script editing.

Save your script in a "Script" folder in it's .mimovf project folder

2 – Shoot video (no audio yet), and revise script again

After you’ve written your script and have had it revised, shoot the visuals of your script first before you record audio.

“But wait, really? Why would you shoot the visuals before you record the audio?” — Shooting your visuals and user actions first actually serves as another means of revising your script. During this initial shooting you may realize small steps that you had overlooked while writing your script that should be included. Performing this step first and perfecting your script before recording audio minimizes the amount of audio re-recording you’ll have to do. Re-recording audio and inserting it later can cause problems as we’ll discuss.

While you’re shooting screenshots from your script, you’ll also find points in your script where you should add clarification or demonstration transitions like: “Now watch as I demonstrate…” that you didn’t think of when you were writing. Also take note of points where the tutorial demonstrations might require a pause in your speaking, and insert those pauses into your script. Yes, you can add pauses in your audio afterward, but ultimately genuine pauses sound much more polished than edited ones.

Use frames from other projects

Reuse screen shots from your other projects as much as possible. If you’re making several tutorials for a piece of software, you’re very likely going to have the same screenshots, and even the same processes already filmed in other projects you’ve done. For example, let’s say you’re making several video tutorials on how to use MadCap Flare. Almost all of those tutorials will probably start with a screenshot of the Flare home screen. And after that, most of the tutorials will probably continue with the same sequences of screenshots of either accessing the Content Explorer or Project Manager. Don’t re-shoot these screens and initial processes if you already have them. The most efficient way to record a tutorial is to not record at all! The first step before you record anything in a project is to think of individual screen shots you’ve already taken that you can re-use in this new project. Then, you can easily copy and paste them into your new project, or save frames in the “Add to Master Frames” option in the Frames tab as shown in the image below.

Library

This one big idea will save you dozens of hours. But, in all new projects you will have to record eventually, and when you do, make sure you’re following the best practices.

Video sizing & red box best practices

If you’re a video tutorial software or Mimic first-time user, before you start recording anything, determine the screen dimensions that your organization will use for video tutorials going forward. We recommend 1600×900, as this is what YouTube uses.

HTML5 is the best output option, and a gem of an addition to MadCap Mimic v7. HTML5 works on all browsers, and if a video doesn’t fit a screen perfectly, it will automatically fit to the screen as closely as possible, and distribute any empty space equally on the sides of the screen with black space. Again, 1600×900 is a good starting point.

Don’t let default output video dimensions affect how you set your red box dimensions. Especially if you’re posting your videos into Flare, you can re-size the presented video thumbnail to any size, then simply instruct users to select the “View Full Screen” option. You can find exact details on how to perform this re-sizing and more details on HTML5 vs other video output options in a future post. Determining your organizations video dimensions early will prevent you from having to re-record your first few videos if a different size is determined later, so figure it out. If you end up with a tutorial video collection and all your videos have different dimensions, it can look sloppy, and the dimension changes from video to video will be noticeable.

Align your red box exactly the same every time

Red_Box

We recommend lining your red box exactly one-pixel inside the window you’re filming each time:

  1. Line up the top-left corner of your box closely
  2. Use the arrow keys on your keyboard to move the red box to exactly one pixel below the top, and exactly one pixel from the left side of the window you’re filming

This prevents an appearance of your screen jumping around when frames change. A screen that jumps around can look sloppy and unprofessional.

Using “Screenshot” vs. “Recording” vs. “Video” in the Frame tab

Screenshot

Use the “Screenshot” option most often. Good video tutorials are made from screenshots. Do not view tutorial production as filming with a video camera, and start thinking of it as: Shooting, organizing, editing, and customizing sequences of screenshots. That’s actually what frames in Mimic are: screenshots. Tutorials made from screenshots ultimately result in better tutorials. On the other hand, a tutorial filmed from video recording can result in a low quality appearance, and also record every human error. Video recording usually does not allow for editing transitions, and can take an exceedingly long time to get one shot just right that you may have to re-record at a later time anyway. Screenshot tutorials allow you to revise a video until every detail is perfect, and allow you to easily update the content in the future if needed.

You’ll eventually find yourself using the “Screenshot” option (which takes single screenshots) for most of your frame creation. The “automatic” and “manual” options in “Recording” simply allow consecutive screenshots in one take. The “Video” option is useful when users have to record a “click-and-drag” process within software functionality, which screenshots cannot capture. But, “Video” should be used rarely, and only for very small procedures when absolutely necessary.

video_settings

When starting your shooting, follow this workflow:

  1. Take a screenshot of your starting point screen.
  2. Next, make the next action in your script. (Don’t worry about the length of each frame yet. Edit this when you sync audio.)
  3. Take another screen shot, and continue this process.
  4. Revise your script as you’re taking your screen shots, so that it’s perfect before audio recording.

We recommend not selecting “Record cursor movements,” (see image above, in “Options” field) or only using it sparingly for very short clips that contain many clicks, or if following a mouse-clicking sequence is crucial to user understanding. If you choose to use this feature, Mimic’s output will create it’s own cursor movements in a straight line and in a constant motion from one click you make to the next. If you have a longer screenshot, this can result in the cursor moving very slowly directly toward where your next click will happen, which looks unnatural and can be distracting. Instead, consider creating your own logic for cursor selection, clicking, and double clicking. An arrow and rectangle object combination for clicking looks nice, and can clearly show users where and how to select a feature.

3 – Record audio

Now that you’ve created and edited a script, have screenshots for the shell of your script, and edited your script again, it’s time to record your audio.

“Why not just record your audio and visual at the same time?” — You’ll create a much more professional sounding tutorial if you concentrate solely on recording your audio with a clear, well paced voice. Recording visuals, clicking in the right places, and reading and following your script all at the same time is complicated. It will cause mistakes in your visual filming and mistakes in your reading. Put your complete concentration into audio recording, and it will pay off in the end.

Record audio clips in no longer than 30-second “chunks”

Record your audio in small chunks, determined by small subtopics within your tutorial, no longer than 30 seconds each. This will allow you to easily sync audio to visual later on. It will also allow you to rearrange frames and audio easily if and when you decide to change the order of subtopics in your video.

Try to record your audio in one sitting. This will ensure your voice sounds the same throughout the tutorial. It’s difficult to have the same sound of voice when you record at different times, and the difference is easily noticeable by viewers. This is why it’s important to make sure your script is perfect before recording, so that you don’t have to go back and insert new audio into an old recording. Frequently this can result in having to re-record the entire audio over, because the clip will begin to have a different sound to your voice or moods, or just sound butchered.

Don’t stop recording if you make a mistake while speaking. Just start the sentence over. You can easily edit your audio later on with Mimic’s audio editor.

Enunciate clearly, speak each word individually, and don’t roll words and merge their sounds together. In the audio editing process, you’ll find you’ll frequently have to add, remove and re-arrange words. This editing process is easier if there is a clear break between each word. If the end of one word is merged into the beginning of the next, you’ll find it almost impossible to separate, and may have to re-record.

If you’re explaining complex processes, it’s better to speak slowly, and pause longer so viewers have more time to grasp concepts before you move on.

While speaking, pretend you’re actually speaking and explaining to a live person. Stand up if it helps. Use hand motions as you would to a real person, and include the pauses, exaggerations on specific words, and increases and decreases in pitch and tone that naturally come to you. And try not to sound like a third grader reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Microphone best practices

Keep your microphone in the same room, in the same spot, with the same settings. Position your mouth at the same distance and manner from the mic each time. Every room has a slightly different echo, and if you record in different places, the sound change can be noticeable and sound unprofessional.

Don’t plan on saving sound clips for universal use. Your recording location may change over time, and your “tutorial voice” will improve over time. Your sound clips from months before can sound like a different person today. Listen to your audio files on computer speakers, not just on headphones. The settings in headphones can be drastically different from each other and from computer speakers. Be sure the output is not too loud or too soft. If it is, adjust the total volume, or re-record with different settings.

4 – Edit & sync your audio

Once you’ve recorded your audio clips, import them into your project, and attach them to the corresponding slides. Once attached, edit your audio and sync your frames to your actions so that they are perfectly timed with your voice. During this process, re-start your computer at least once half-way through. Copying, transferring, editing and changing large audio files can be a great deal of work for a computer’s memory. Occasionally, if you don’t restart, memory lags can occur, and it might appear that you’re syncing sound perfectly to your actions, when in fact you’re slightly behind. Restarting prevents this.

Audio editing best practices

A first quick and smart editing tip for your audio files should be to simply delete silence at the beginning and end of each clip. This will shrink the audio file size, and keep your tutorial project smaller overall, which can speed up your build time when you’re finished.

Instead of using the “Insert Silence” feature, copy and paste your audio file’s own white noise for silence instead. Sometimes inserting complete silence can be noticeable, and sound blippy.

Audio_Edit

Unless you’ve purposefully left a certain amount of silence after a specific sentence, universalize the time length of silence you take between paragraphs, ideas and topics. This will add a professional flow to your voice. For example, you may choose to have a 1-second pause between new sentences. You would then adjust the silence by deleting extra time, or copying and pasting 1-second of white noise where you want to put it.

5 – Cool editing tricks

After you’ve synced your audio to the tutorial frames, it’s time to add special effects and revise the tutorial so it’s perfect. Here are some neat tricks:

Inserting symbols in text

Insert any symbol from Microsoft Word by simply inserting it into a blank page in word, copying it and pasting it into the rich text box in Mimic. You might want to include bullet points, em dashes, etc…

Creating cascading callout lists

Keeping your viewers’ eyes where you want them in a tutorial is important. Cascading callouts is a cool way to achieve this. For example, you might have a bullet list in which you want the bullets to appear as your voice is reading them. Create cascading callouts by creating one callout with the entire list in it. Then:

  1. Copy the callout, and paste it exactly on top of the first (see image below).
  2. Delete the last bulleted sentence in the new call out.
  3. Re-size the new box from the bottom up to close the gap from your deleted bullet.
  4. In the frame’s timeline, re-position the new callout to appear before the first one, with a slight over lap so the first callout doesn’t disappear before the next appears. (This over-lap should be longer if you’re using the fade in/fade out effect.)
  5. Right-click the new callout, click “order” and select “Sink to Bottom.” This will make the new callout appear on top of the previous callout, rather than it appearing underneath.
  6. Repeat steps 1 – 5 until you’ve created a callout for each bullet.

cascade

Creating the typing effect & spanning objects over multiple frames

You might want to create the effect that you’re typing in your tutorial. To do this, use the “Recording” feature, and record your typing. Then, edit the frame of each letter to span 1/10th of a second in its timeline. This 1/10th of a second guide will create an authentic typing speed look. Often you’ll want to have objects (arrow, callouts, etc..) span over multiple frames (especially over “typing effect” frames, because they’re so short). To do this quickly and correctly:

  1. Place the object on your first frame.
  2. Click on the object, and press Ctrl+C to copy it.
  3. Select the next frame, click anywhere on it and paste with Ctrl+V . You’ll notice the object will be placed in the exact location, and at the exact time as it is in the previous frame.

Time_span

Next, Mimic has a cool feature called “Customize Time Span.” By default an object will have a customizable time span that you can change to appear for a specified time. By right-clicking on an object in a timeline, you can select “Customize Time Span” to disable this feature, and it locks the object’s appearance to span the exact length of the frame itself. Disabling “Customize Time Span” will prevent the object from disappearing and re-appearing in a blippy fashion every time a frame changes, and ensure the object is consistently present.

Assign logic to frame transition effects

You can change the way frames move from one to the next: Fade, slide, push, etc.— Don’t use transition effects randomly. This can result in confusing your viewer of the sequence of your actions. If your video is a sequential tutorial of steps, use the same transitional effect for each slide change. However, if you’re deviating from a chronological sequence in your tutorial (flashing back to an old screen, or showing an outside website) determine a logical effect for each transition, and be consistent throughout all of your tutorials with that transition effect logic.

For example, say every time a chronological sequence ends in your tutorial, you want to go back to the home screen using a fade transition effect. You should then use the fade effect every time a frame navigates back to the home screen to maintain this logical consistency. Or if you’re transitioning to an outside website in your tutorial, maybe you’ll always slide the screen to the right when transitioning outside of the software, and always slide to the left when returning to the software. You should then always use this “slide left to move outside, slight right to move back” logic moving forward. This will build a logical and subconscious understanding for your viewers about what is happening with the actual navigation within your tutorial, and reduce confusion.

Create a fade-in or fade-down effect in your audio clips

Especially for when you add background music to your tutorial (Movie>Properties>Audio), you may want the background music to fade-in at the beginning, or fade-down while you’re giving complex explanations. Rather than just suddenly lowering the volume for a segment, create a fade-in or fade-down effect to avoid volume levels changing quickly. For example, let’s say your tutorial has background music, and you want the sound to gradually fade in:

  1. Be sure your background music is quiet to begin with… very quiet.
  2. Select the entire segment you wish to fade. If you wish for the sound to not reach its maximum volume until 10 seconds into the tutorial, highlight the first 10 seconds.
  3. Lower the volume for the entire first 10 seconds to 90%.
  4. Then highlight the first 9 seconds, and lower the volume again to 90%.
  5. Then highlight the first 8 seconds and continue this process.

fade_in

This will result in a smooth reduction of volume, unnoticeable to your viewer.

Scott Jordan Former English teacher, avid swimming blogger and technical communicator for Burgess Group LLC
www.scottjordanswimming.com

July 24, 2014

Tip – Single Source your Variables

Being a Madcap Flare user for the last few years I always find myself in awe when I discover new tricks. The other day when our team of writers was pondering how to build out our new documentation beehive in Flare, we decided to single-source as much as we could. So we created one huge project, added a million snippets, a billion topics and created a ton of targets to implement our new strategy of small topic-based user guides.

So now the trick was to make all these guides pretty and uniform. Using Flare’s advanced out-of-the-box templates I was able to put together a nice layout that would work for all these guides. However, I didn’t really feel like creating separate title or cover pages for each guide with their respective titles. So then I thought, let’s use a variable. But wait, wouldn’t I have to change the variable in the *.flvar file every time I built a target?? F-that!

But then, I discovered something new and, instantly, I was compelled to share. I didn’t realize this before, but if you change the variable on your target file, it will save that variable for that target. BOOM!! Mind is blown!
variables
So now for every new guide we create, we have a table of contents that reuses all the print output files. Then we control the title of our guides with the target variable. Thus making our work a great deal easier.

Editing the target variable makes it so it doesn’t affect things we don’t want to change and we don’t have to worry about changing the text every time we build each user guide.
post-v4
Looking Pretty!

Hope this tip helps.

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April 2, 2014

Using themes, Why reinvent the wheel?

These days when it comes to building websites or creating documents, you’ll need an artist as well as a rocket scientist to make them look professional. Everything seems to be built on magic; images float around webpages as if they were circling the sun, clicking on a simple buttons fabricates magical transition, and so on. Clients are always looking for the next greatest thing. They all want their sites to “pop”. That magic they’re asking for requires more effort, more time, and possibly the need to hire some developers. So why waist your time?

themesOver the years utilizing themes has been the approach that has worked best for me. If you’re looking to build a website, you don’t have to start from scratch. There are sites like themeforest.net where you can pick from a million different website templates. Ideally, you’ll want to find something that has the functionality that you need. Once you’ve found that, you can reskin the site, add your own logo, content and graphics.. and walla! Brand new website for the masses!

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September 5, 2013

Quick Tip – Moving Files in Flare

First time Flare users might get a bit lost trying to figure out where all those pretty bell and whistles are hiding. In my experience I found myself scratching my head looking through menus and probing the web for what this icon does or what term means.. So after suffering my own learning curve, I’ve decided to share some tips from time to time.

Here’s one that may help you..

Moving or deleting multiple files in Flare

So simple you would think. However, in Flare’s Content Explorer pane you can only select one file at a time. By design I think that’s great since it will prevent you from possibly moving or deleting some files that you didn’t mean to. However, when you decide you need to do some file cleansing, and you’ll want to do it in bulk, you’ll need to click this icon.

flareicon1

Once selected the window will split in two. The right side of the window will display the files within the folder selected on the left. Here is where users can now select multiple files to do with as they please.

flareselect1

Now when you right click on the selected files, you have the option to delete, send to a new folder, and even adjust the properties.

flarerightclick1

When you’re all done with yours tasks, just click that little icon again and the content explorer will go back to one pane.

Pretty simple stuff. Just might not be that obvious when if you’re just getting into Madcap Flare.

Hope this tip helped.

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August 21, 2013

Can we be more creative in the Cloud? — BYOA!

Deliver Education via SaaS

I came across this post in my daily browsing of the web: “How SaaS is triggering the rise of mid-market companies”. It got me to start thinking how SaaS is opening new doors for educators as well. Agile development not only gives users updates to features, fixes and the like, but also updated content from an educational perspective. We can deploy new content quickly to multiple outputs and to multiple points of access via the SaaS model.

I really love the Author’s idea of “BYOA”.

This client-server model is crumbling as an increasingly app-savvy workforce armed with ever more powerful smartphones creates a “BYOA” (bring-your-own-application) IT culture.

As creators in this mobile age we strive towards new concepts for delivering content to our clients and end users. With tailored applications we can start thinking outside the box. We don’t have to be confined to traditional help systems or user guides. We can be creative.

Today’s knowledge workers want to use smartphones and tablets to access enterprise data — whether or not their companies have the appropriate policies and security measures in place. The amount of information now available to mobile knowledge workers in real time is staggering, and this is changing the speed at which businesses can react.

Industry tides are pulling everyone into the cloud and mobile platforms, so it presents us technical communicators with a fun challenge: building new application support methods that take into account how users are interacting with our application. Does my Help system need to be in the product or can it be in the cloud? Should I leverage social media and user collaboration? Would my users rather watch a “how to” video than read a boring step by step process?

Most of us, I would assume, have already asked these questions, but sometimes within corporate structures there are limitations we have to succumb to. Regardless, the SaaS migration is a staple for tech savvy software business and it allows us to go in new directions. I certainly don’t have the answers for cloud-based education solutions, but I am excited to explore the questions this technology brings to the table.

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