Technical Communication Poll: Can Structured Authoring and Web Content Delivery Co-exist?

One Little Word:  Structured Authoring Or, And, or For the Web

poll- structured authoring and web contentThree of the most respected names in technical communication, Tom Johnson (I’d Rather Be Writing), Sarah O’Keefe (Scriptorium), and Mark Baker (Every Page is Page One), have been having a spirited online discussion over the role of structured authoring and the World Wide Web. Now mind you, it’s been is a very respectful disagreement with each of them acknowledging each other’s insightful comments along the way. Essentially, their arguments boil down to the choice of one little word: Or, And or For… inserted between structured authoring and web content delivery.

Never one to miss a controversy, we thought this would be good fodder for his week’s poll question so that you can weigh in on their discussion.  After all, you deal with decisions on output (PDF, web, EPUB, etc.), workflows (collaborative authoring, approvals and production), and creation style (voice, tone, approach and purpose) every day.

To begin with Tom blogs about some key questions and issues he has with choosing structured authoring as an approach when output is web content, after having listened to Scriptorium’s webinar on the state of the tech comm industry. Structured Authoring Versus the Web? asks whether the advantages gained from structured authoring can make up for its apparent lack of a web-friendly output format. He believes that print outputs are fast becoming obsolete; that with the advent of cloud-based subscriptions, versioning of online help is also on the wane; and that structured authoring can diminish the natural flow of content.

Sarah takes issue with a number of Tom’s premises in Structured authoring AND the web. She questions whether any significant number of companies are producing SaaS only, and suggests that an agile methodology is irrelevant to the underlying question of whether a company chooses a print output. In rebutting Tom’s points about SME collaboration, platforms, browser-based editing and such, she makes her key point: overall business requirements should drive authoring approach, outputs, tools AND formats, rather than an author-centric case for web-only outputs that might negate the need for structured authoring methodology.

Finally, Mark weighs in suggesting that they’re looking in the wrong direction when asking the question, and frames his position in Structured Writing FOR the Web. Mark recognizes that structured authoring as an approach arose from the need in many organizations to single-source or to reuse content (or both), in a document/print-centric paradigm. Most companies who move to structured authoring do so for the benefits of single-sourcing and reuse, thinking of the web as a secondary medium, after all the print and PDF considerations are fulfilled.  Current structured authoring solutions (DITA, DocBook, etc.) work from this premise as well. Mark sees that most users today look to the web first, and a new approach to structured authoring will have to focus on the requirements of web-ready content first.

So what do you think? Is structured authoring too restrictive to integrate with the dynamic requirements of web content today? Will the tools evolve to allow a model that makes structured authoring easier in web-only environments?  Will we ever truly move away from print and app-based help?

Please vote in our poll and then post a comment and let us know what kind of environment you’re working in currently, and how this discussion impacts your tools and workflow decisions. What’s the practical implication for you now, and two years down the road? Both the vendors and the pundits are paying attention, so make your voice heard.

Can structured authoring and writing content for web delivery co-exist in the real world today?

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Poll: Can Structured Authoring and Web Content ...

11 years ago

[…] TechWhirl's poll asks if structured authoring and web content delivery can co-exist, after three tech comm luminaries start a lively debate across blogs.  […]

Jacquie Samuels

Jacquie Samuels

11 years ago

Structured authoring is as close as you can get to the Easy Button for publishing to multiple outputs, including the web. Structured Authoring + MindTouch + some serious planning and work = a great user experience of content.

Joe Pairman

11 years ago

Yes, of course structured content can and does exist with web content delivery, often (though not always) in the way Mark Baker described in this comment on Tom Johnson’s post:

However, it’s worth noting that “structured content” has different connotations in different circles. To many people, it refers to a more structured way of doing things in an environment where the CMS *is* authoring tool. See the fascinating discussion under this post by Kevin Potts in the Content Strategy Google+ community:


11 years ago

I have seen examples of perfectly constructed single source content that beautifully outputs to multiple formats. However, the content is somewhere short of useful. I think there is a danger that too large a focus on single-sourcing to multiple formats may result in a lack of attention to creating really useful and usable documentation. The two objectives do not have to be in conflict, but ultimately the top priority must be useful and usable documentation.

Is Structured Authoring (like DITA) a Good Fit for Publishing on a Website? | I'd Rather Be Writing

11 years ago

[…] May 17 Update: For some other perspectives, see Sarah O’Keefe’s Structured Authoring AND the Web, Mark Baker’s Structured Writing FOR the Web, and this summary from Techwhirl: Can Structured Authoring and Web Content Delivery Co-exist? […]


11 years ago

I’m giving a talk at the UA Europe conference this June 13-14 about this very thing. The product I document is a web app — that means the docs are “on the web”. The source for each topic is raw DITA — structured. The web browser uses AJAX to get the raw DITA, and transforms it into HTML for display — structure and web coexists. It’s shipping in a real product, now.

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