What is it?
Content that has sufficient metadata to allow a processor to filter or flag that content in any output format, using a profile to determine the exact output for a given context or format.
Why is it important?
Conditional content facilitates the reuse of content components in multiple contexts or formats. The metadata specifies the contexts to which a specific component applies.
Why does a technical communicator need to know this?
More than ever, technical communicators are required to do more with less. Meeting requirements for ever-shortening development cycles with fewer resources requires detailed analysis of all information being published. That analysis should identify opportunities to use similar content in different contexts.
Conditional content includes all the variations of content within a single topic, so the writer only has one topic to manage for all contexts. A processor uses a profile to determine which portions of the topic become part of the output. Using conditional content can minimize the number of topics the writing team has to manage.
Consider a topic that lists the features of a family of cell phones. The basic features of all the cell phones are the base topic. Additional or different features are added to the base and given attribute values the processor uses to include or exclude content based on the product manual required for a particular phone.
Another example uses conditional content to support a device that does not render tables optimally. The topic would contain a presentation specific to that device, then when preparing content for that device, the processor removes the table and includes the alternate presentation instead.
Resist the temptation to create alternative texts within the structure of a sentence or for a topic that contains little base content and becomes just a series of filtered paragraphs or sentences. These structures become difficult to maintain and can cause problems for localization.