Single-source publishing (or single sourcing) is a content management process that allows the creation of multiple documents from one source document (one single text).

At its most basic level, single sourcing:

  • uses content from one text in multiple file formats.
  • refers to processes that include or exclude sections of a text to create completely different deliverables from a single source of content.

The shift in content management toward single-source publishing has brought benefits to several audiences:

  • Editors save time and money because there is not as much content to edit
  • Readers benefit because the same message is communicated consistently across publishing formats.
  • Developers save time because they no longer have to worry about the maintenance challenges that exist with redundant information. Only one text needs to be updated and published to the various deliverables instead of all the deliverables needing to be individually updated.

History of Single Sourcing

The creation of graphic user interfaces allowed publishers to output deliverables into different formats. This provided the earliest pathways to single-source publishing.

The development of XML, with its ability to separate content and present information in layers, enabled publishers to easily customize content for various formats and audiences. Multiple presentation layers could be created without altering the content layer.

The developing technology of word processing software has taken single sourcing beyond altering file formats and distinguishing between blocks of text to actually tailoring content to specific audiences. With these advancements, the same source text can deliver vastly different documents depending on the publisher’s needs.

Uses of Single Sourcing

Publishers continue to develop uses for single sourcing. The following list includes some of the benefits of single-source publishing:

  • Creating file formats for both print and online content
    One of the most basic uses of single sourcing is to create separate file formats for different uses for part or all of the text. The content can be exported as HTML, PDF, and other formats at the same time, and these formats can be sent to a printer for hardcopy publishing or to a specific website for electronic publishing.
  • Translating text more efficiently
    Single-source publishing results in fewer resources (people, time, and money) spent on translation efforts because only one single text needs to be translated.
  • Customizing messages for different audiences
    With the use of word processing software, such as Microsoft Word or Adobe FrameMaker, the author can create variables that alter specific parts of the text according to the needs of the audience.
  • Defining perimeters of content needs
    Single-source publishing can be used to develop templates that help writers and subject matter experts identify and create the content to include in the text. This ensures that content is written in a consistent manner as well (for example, with consistent headings).

Single-Source or Multi-Channel

There is some confusion about the differences between single-source publishing and multi-channel publishing. The following points provide clarification:

  • Single-source publishing refers to the process that is defined by one single text.
  • Multi-channel publishing refers to a process that is defined by output options and is less dependent on one single text. Multi-channel publishing can collect from a mix of content sources.


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