MadCap Flare has some of the most powerful style features in the online authoring world. However, working with styles can seem confusing due to some seemingly odd behavior.
For instance, the available styles in the Styles pane seem to change without warning.
Check out the two images below. The Styles pane is shown at the right of the Flare interface in both images. In the first image, notice that, among other things, nothing is selected and there is a list of heading styles (h1, h2, etc) in the Styles pane.
In the second image, I've simply selected some text but the Styles pane looks very different (no heading styles are shown).
What’s going on? Flare is trying to help by only showing styles that are relevant at the cursor’s position. For example, if you click in a paragraph but don’t select any text, or select an entire paragraph (including the hard return at the end), Flare shows the paragraph styles.
Select anything less than a full paragraph, like a word, and Flare shows the character styles. The result? You don’t have to wade through a bunch of styles that are irrelevant to your position in the document. This also has two side effects.
Many new Flare users use the head styles for topic titles and sub-titles but still do local formatting – using the formatting options in the Font section of the Home ribbon – to boldface or italicize text. This works but it’s inefficient. Instead, to boldface or italicize text, highlight the desired text and select the desired style on the Styles pane.
Flare’s handling of list styles is confusing at first. For example, the screen below shows a list to-be, the three highlighted items, but no list styles on the Styles pane. Why?
Although this is a list to-be, it’s still just three paragraphs as far as Flare is concerned so Flare isn’t showing any list styles. To see list styles, you have to first “tell” Flare that these three items are an actual list.
To create a list, select the text, then select a list option in the Paragraph group on the Home ribbon. (Yes, this is local formatting, just once to tell Flare that the text is a list.)
In the example below, I selected the bulleted list option. The three items are now a bulleted list and, because Flare knows that, it can display the List styles in the Styles pane.
Note that the Styles pane is showing one list style, li (for List Item). That’s because li is the only predefined list style.
You can create your own list styles – bullets and numbers at different levels or with different bullet or number types, for example – and they’ll all display on the Styles pane once Flare knows that you are in a programmatically “true” list.
There’s a lot more to Flare’s styles and the stylesheet editor. We’ll look at some of those features in later articles. For now, it’s important to know that the Styles pane isn't as confusing as it seems... and is, in fact, actively making you work more efficiently.
Neil Perlin is MadCap-Certified for Flare and Mimic, and is a long-time consultant, troubleshooter, and trainer for the tool, going back to MadCap’s founding in 2004. He also has years of experience with other authoring tools like RoboHelp and Doc-To-Help and some now defunct tools like ForeHelp. He is also a certified app developer, trainer, and consultant for the ViziApps app development platform. You can reach him at email@example.com and at NeilEric on Twitter.