Guest blogger Kathy Gaetz, Senior Technical Writer will be writing some blogs on getting started with Flare.  Here’s her first blog- thanks Kathy!

Flare 101: Just the Basics

A Flare primer for new users

Ask someone about MadCap Flare and the one phrase you are most likely to hear is “learning curve.”The curve can be steep. That’s because there is a lot to learn and there isn’t a simple step-by-step procedure you can follow. Flare is the sum of many parts: cascading style sheets, page layouts, table styles, XML code.

It can seem overwhelming, but we’re here to help you through it with this first in a series of blog posts.

To start, let’s set aside style sheets and page layouts and talk about three components that you use in every Flare project:

  1. Topics
  2. Targets
  3. TOCs

Without these, your document has no content—the technical writer’s version of “all hat and no cowboy.”


If you became a technical writer because you like to write, then topics are your friends. This is where you get to write.

If you are used to writing with Microsoft Word or Adobe’s FrameMaker, MadCap Flare is an entirely different way to work. Although you could write a 300-page document with a single topic, as I’ve seen done with Word, it isn’t a very effective way to work in Flare.

There are two things to remember about topics:

  • Shorter is better. Try to keep a topic to a single standalone piece of information that is perhaps a page or two long. Then you can stitch together any number of topics to create your 300-page document, similar to creating a book with chapters in FrameMaker.
  • Topics can be re-used for print, online, even mobile outputs. This is the most important reason to keep the topics short. Write it once; reuse it multiple times.


A target is simply the type of output. What do you want to produce? A PDF book? HTLM Help? A Microsoft Word document? A FrameMaker book? An e-book? Your target can specify any of these.

You can download a comprehensive 385-page document from MadCap Flare that discusses targets, but for now just remember these two points:

  • You can have multiple targets in your Flare project.
  • Each target specifies a specific type of output.


Once you have all your topics, you need to arrange them so that the Preface doesn’t come after the Appendix. That’s where the TOCs come in. A TOC (some people pronounce it “tock”) is an outline where you specify the topics you want to use in a specific document or Help file and the order in which they appear in your target.

There is a lot more to working with Flare than just topics, targets, and TOCs, but if you understand these three things, you are on your way to Flare proficiency.