Structured Authoring: Good for more than Tech Pubs? (Poll)

The Content Needs to be Just Right for Structured Authoring

The Content Needs to be Just Right for Structured Authoring
credit: iclipart

During a recent interview, Patrick Bosek of easyDITA, brought up the idea of high-value documents that would be right for a component content management system and structured authoring. The concept is that, similar to Goldilocks’ preferred porridge, the content must be “just right” for a structured solution.

He said, and we agree, that to be “high value” documents should have some staying power within the organization. Low-value docs like memos and other “short term” content shouldn’t be considered.

While we suggest that some language in low-value content can be “canned” to use a non-tech comm term, it is very true that more robust content such as technical publications are certainly more appropriate for a structured solution. The idea that we should single-source content is pretty easy to accept, and since other than NPR, technical communication documents lead the way on this front, the question becomes – other than tech pubs what else can benefit from structured authoring and storage?

So here it is – an easy poll question and discussion in the comments request: Can structured authoring be used for more than technical publications (please vote)? Then in what industry and why (comments) or if you think technical documentation is the only documents that really work, why?

Can structured authoring be used for more than technical publications ?

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Connie Giordano

Connie Giordano

11 years ago

There’s a huge opportunity in compliance documentation, and in complex proposal development (particularly large proposals for Federal government contracts.) Probably quite a few more, but these are two that I work with regularly where I see quite a need.

Mark Baker

11 years ago

Absolutely, structured content is good for more than just tech pubs. And I think it is important to note that many other fields besides tech pubs do use structured content, and have use it for a very long time. The big difference between tech comm and other fields is not that we do structured authoring and they don’t, but they do structured authoring different from how we do it.

In tech comm, the term structured authoring tends to be understood to mean specifically XML, and sometimes, even more specifically, DITA. But many fields do structured content using other tools, particularly database tools, and even in tech pubs itself, there is a lot of structured content work being done that does not use XML. If you have ever received a benefits statement with all your particular details filled in, for instance, you have received something produced by structured writing.

I think it would be a great thing to see cross-pollination of ideas between how tech comm does structured content and how other fields do it. We may have much to learn and much to teach.


11 years ago

:) Great points Mark – we left out the acronym soup (XML, DITA) on purpose … there’s a larger rant, err, conversation here in which it’ll serve everyone’s purpose if we move past worrying about data format and into the benefits it delivers.

Steve Morse

11 years ago

Our experience is that there are specific document types that greatly benefit from DITA XML. For most of our customers, it’s technical documentation of one sort or another. But some of our customers produce other kinds of documents and find that using DITA greatly streamlines the creation/review/distribution/translation process.

We have found that in general these documents are:
High value (as Patrick said, usually customer-facing, sometimes required by regulation, as Connie mentioned)
Collaborative (combining many information sources)
Reusable (with lots of boilerplate)
Conditional (if the reader meets this condition, show them this content)

Ann Rockley

11 years ago

I have used structured content for many different types of content beyond Tech Doc including marketing, web sites, pharma, medical devices, healthcare, trade press books (popular non-fiction), textbooks (K-12 and college), journals, financial, proposals, SOPs, learning materials (classroom and web), and more. Most have been DITA, some not.

What supports the structure doesn’t matter, but what does matter is not having to create all the functionality from scratch, being able to support reusable and adaptive content, strong metadata capabilities, and not proprietary. I’m not interested in “reinventing the wheel” or having to compromise the quality and functionality of my content because of a proprietary solution that is not as capable as I need.

Stephen Morse

11 years ago

Here’s a user story from – – that picks up on Ann’s point:

“Using a standard format gives access to a market of standard tools (authoring, CMS, translation) and to a user community that is eager to share experience. This greatly decreases the effort in R&D, we basically just have to customize it to our small specializations and branding. NXP makes chips, we don’t develop techdoc formats, CMS or publishing tools!

To us a standard equals lots of people who have the same problems as we have plus lots of software companies who are anticipating our needs without us even asking them.”

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