25 tips that every MadCap Flare user should know

At MadWorld 2019 in San Diego, I presented a session called “10 tips that every MadCap Flare user should know.” I had many attendees ask if they could have my notes from the session, but the unfortunate reality was that I didn’t have notes. All I had was a simple list of about 25 tips, and my plan was to talk about at least 10 of them (I think we ended up getting to 19).

For all of those who asked for my notes, I’ve gone ahead and typed them up here in this blog post. For those who didn’t ask for them, I hope that you still find a handful of these tips useful.

These tips were written for Flare 2019.

1. Disable auto-reload of tabs

If you’ve ever opened Flare and been annoyed that it re-opens all the tabs you had open when you last closed Flare, this tip is for you.

Go to File > Options > General and uncheck Auto-Reload Documents.

2. Close all tabs quickly

Maybe you’re not ready to close Flare, but you’ve got dozens of tabs open that you just want to close quickly.

Right click any tab (preferably the one you want to remain open), and click Close All But This.

3. Customize auto-suggestion

The auto-suggestion window pops up by default when Flare recognizes that you’re typing a word that is in your variables file. Sometimes this is helpful, sometimes it’s annoying. You can disable auto-suggestion or customize it so that it better suits your needs.

Go to File > Options > Auto Suggestion to customize its behavior.

4. Hiding styles from the style window

It’s easy for the style window to get stuffed with styles that you don’t need to use on a regular basis, yet need to keep in your stylesheet. Maybe you have a bunch of styles for your home page, for example, and those styles are cluttering up your style window.

You can disable these styles from showing up in your style window (while keeping them in your stylesheet).

For the styles you want to hide, add mc-hidden: hidden to the style properties.

Screenshot showing the mc-hidden property in the MadCap Flare stylesheet editor

5. Pinning styles in the style list

If you use certain styles frequently, you can pin them to the top of the style list. In the Style Window, click the pin icon next to any style, and it will automatically show up at the top of the style window until you unpin it by clicking the pin icon again.

If you’re wondering how to open the Style Window, you’ll find it in the Home ribbon.

6. Show all images as thumbnails

If you have topic with a lot of images, sometimes it can get annoying to try to edit the text around those images. You can enable the Show all images as thumbnails option in your XML Editor, which shrinks your images to thumbnail view. Note that this will not convert your images to thumbnails in your output, just in your editor view.

With a topic open, click the Show Tags drop-down in the local toolbar, and then click Show All Images As Thumbnails.

7. Locate in Explorer / Locate in TOC

Flare gives you some handy tools to quickly locate where a topic file is located in the Content Explorer or in a TOC.

From the Content Explorer, right click a topic, and select Locate in TOC.

From the TOC file, right click a TOC entry, and select Locate in Explorer.

Likewise, you can click any open topic’s tab and select either Locate in Explorer or Locate in TOC. These options are also available from the Project ribbon.

8. View Links

From most files in both the Content Explorer and the Project Organizer, you can right click and select View Links. This is especially useful in cases where you want to see what files a snippet is used in. Becoming familiar with the Link Viewer is a necessary skill for any Flare user.

9. Open Link

From a topic, you can’t edit snippets. You can quickly open the snippet file though by right clicking the snippet and selecting Open Link (you can also do this with cross references and hyperlinks).

Not only is this handy when you need to edit a snippet, but used in conjunction with tips 6 and 7, it also helps you see what other topics the snippet is used in (especially useful in large projects). Once the snippet file is open, right click its tab and select Locate in Explorer. Then, right click the snippet in the Content Explorer, and select View Links.

10. Convert snippet to text

While we’re on the topic of snippets, I’ll point out another option. When you right click a snippet, you see an option called Convert to text. As the name implies, this converts the snippet content to text in your topic and decouples the content from the snippet file itself. This can be very useful if you need to insert template content in many topics, yet edit that content for each topic.

11. Using the conditional expression viewer

For topics that have conditions in them, and especially if there are a lot of conditions, the conditional expression viewer is a necessity. Using this viewer, you can view a topic in the XML editor with a target condition settings applied. Actually, you can apply any conditions you want–I just happen to think that the target viewer is the most useful.

With a topic open, click the conditional expression viewer icon in the local toolbar.

The Conditional Text window opens, and from here, you can select the target condition settings you want to apply.

After clicking OK, the conditions are applied in your XML editor view of your topic.

12. Show/Hide conditional indicators

When you apply a condition to an element, by default, only that element’s structure bar gets highlighted to indicate that it has a condition applied. To make it easier to see what content has a condition, you can enable Show conditional indicators. With this enabled, you’ll see a conditional indicator right in the content, not just in the structure bar.

With a topic open, click the Show/Hide conditional indicators icon on the bottom of the editor.

13. Using Macros

Few Flare features have saved me more time than macros. If you’re finding yourself doing routine tasks again and again, then you need to create a macro to automate those tasks. Check out the Flare help for instructions on how to create a use macros.

I use my custom macro shortcut keys all day long to insert lists, callout divs, and customized responsive rows. On one project I was on, we needed to use definition lists. Flare doesn’t have a user interface option to insert a definition list, even though you can do it in the code. The solution? A macro to insert definition lists!

14. Using mc-next-tag and mc-next-class

These hidden stylesheet properties are extremely useful in certain contexts (like autonumbered paragraphs). They allow you to specify what tag or class should follow a tag or class when you press Enter. A couple of examples will help explain this.

When I was working on the project that required definition lists, I always wanted a <dd> tag to follow a <dt> tag. For reference, here is the syntax of a definition list:

<dl>
  <dt>Term 1</dt>
  <dd>Definition 1</dd>
  <dt>Term 2</dt>
  <dd>Definition 2</dd>
</dl>

When I was writing these lists, I wanted a <dd> tag to follow a <dt> (the Flare default is to just insert another <dt>), and in similar manner, I wanted a <dt> to follow a <dd>. This way, I could zip through the list just by pressing Enter to get the next element I needed.

All I needed was to add this CSS to my stylesheet:

dd{
	mc-next-tag: 'dt';
}

dt{
	mc-next-tag: 'dd';
}

Let’s look at an example with mc-next-class. As I previously mentioned, this property is extremely useful when using autonumbered paragraphs for numbered lists, but I’m finding fewer and fewer people doing that. Instead, what I’m going to show is how to use this property to remove a class.

Let’s say that you use an imageCaption class for image caption paragraphs. By default, if you press Enter after you type your caption, you’re going to get another <p class="imageCaption">. But what you probably want is just a <p> with no class. This CSS will do just that:

p.imageCaption{
    mc-next-class: ' ';
}

Unfortunately, this does still leave an empty class attribute on the paragraph (<p class=" ">), but that’s not going to do any damage. I wish there were a better way to go from an element with a class to one without one, but this is the best I know of for now and is being used successfully by many of my clients.

15. Toggle double-click behavior

By default, double-clicking a TOC entry opens that entry’s properties. In 95% of the cases though, what you probably really want is to just open the associated topic. To switch the behavior, just check the Toggle double-click behavior button in the TOC local toolbar.

15. Unbinding elements

There are some cases where you want to remove an element, yet keep the contents of the element. This is where Unbind saves the day. To use it, right click the structure bar you want to unbind, and then click Unbind. In this example, I am removing the drop-down text code, yet keeping the contents of the drop-down itself.

17. Using the File List

The file list in Flare is a really useful spreadsheet-like interface to get a lot of data about your files on just one screen. If you have a project with a lot of files, be patient while the file list loads.

To use the file list, click View > File List.

18. Using the TOC Grid view

In similar fashion to the File List, you can also view your TOC file in a way that shows a lot more data about your TOC entries.

With your TOC open, click View: Tree in the local toolbar to switch to the Grid view (and alternatively, click View: Grid to get back to the tree view).

19. Exporting to Excel

If you need to do some deeper level analytics on your File List (tip 17) or your TOC Grid (tip 18), then you can export these lists to a .csv file. There are two options: either export the entire list to excel, or just export the selected data to excel.

20. Pinning Snippets, Images, and Variables

I grouped these together since they all show up in the same place on the Flare interface. If you’re using certain snippets, images, or variables frequently, you can pin them to the top of their respective insert buttons on the XML editor local toolbar (although you may also want to consider creating a macro).

In this example, I’m pinning a snippet:

After pinning, it shows up in the Pinned Snippets section:

21. Using the pasting options

One of the least visible and most useful tools in Flare is the paste option selector. When you paste text into Flare, it pastes as paragraphs no matter what format the text was in when you copied it. This is extremely inconvenient if you want to paste a table, for example.

Luckily, there is a selector that allows you to pick your paste behavior. After pasting content into a topic, a small icon appears at the bottom right corner of the content you just pasted. Click it, and you’ll see the pasting options. Note that you can also set the default paste behavior.

22. Using Quick Launch

If you have a hard time finding files in your project, or if you’re wondering where a toolbar option is, you can use Quick Launch to help find what you’re looking for. I find this especially useful for large projects. For example, if I’m looking at my built output and find something I need to update, I can copy the filename from the browser URL and paste it into the Quick Launch bar.

The Quick Launch bar is at the top right corner of the Flare screen.

23. Adding items to the Quick Access Toolbar

Any button from any ribbon can be added to the Quick Access Toolbar. By default, the quick access toolbar shows up just to the right of the Undo / Redo buttons in the top left corner of the Flare screen. Adding frequently-used interface buttons to the Quick Access Toolbar can eliminate annoying clicks by placing all of your favorite buttons on the toolbar.

Right-click any button on any ribbon, and select Add to Quick Access Toolbar. You can also reposition the toolbar beneath the ribbons, although I personally like it above.

24. Open Folder in Windows

From any folder in the Content Explorer, you can right click and select Open Folder in Windows. This opens the folder in Windows Explorer. This can be really useful if you need to move large numbers of items into your project. For example, if you’ve got a batch of images or PDF files you want to add, you can open the folder in windows and simply drag them all in. They will immediately show up in your Flare Content Explorer.

I need to issue a warning with this one though. Don’t give into the temptation to move files around or rename folders in Windows Explorer. If you do, you’re almost certainly going to break a bunch of links in your Flare project. Use this option only to add files to your project.

25. Customizing the window layout

While it takes some getting used to, you can customize the Flare window layout to your preferences. Let’s say, for example, that you want your TOC file to show up just to the right of your Content Explorer.

To do this, open your TOC file, and then click its tab and drag it down. This pulls the TOC tab into its own floating window. Now, click the header bar of the floating TOC and start to drag it around. You’ll see little position icons open, and if you drag your mouse pointer over those icons, you’ll see a green preview of where your TOC will be docked if you release the mouse button.

For this example, I’m moving it just to the right of my Content Explorer.

Once I release the mouse button, my TOC is docked to the right of my Content Explorer.

Like I said, this takes some practice to get right. If you totally mess up your screen layout, go to Window > Layout > Default to get back. On the other hand, if you’ve created a layout you like and want to save it, you can click Window > Layout > Save Layout. Over time, you’ll probably develop different layouts for different tasks.


I hope that you found at least a few of these tips helpful. If you did, let me know in the comments which ones worked for you. If you’ve got tips that you’d like to share, feel free to leave those in the comments too! I’d love to hear the hints and tips that you use to help enhance your Flare authoring experience.

If your business is looking to implement Flare for the first time or looking to take your Flare implementation to the next level, check out my consulting and training options. If you don’t see exactly what you’re looking for, get in touch and we’ll meet to see if I can be of service to you.

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