ClickHelp Software Documentation Glossary: Definitions of Main Terms, Concepts

What is Structured Authoring

Structured authoring is an XML-based methodological approach to technical writing where content and form are separated. It has topic-based information architecture, a constrained writing environment with software-enforced rules, and content reuse. It enables content from any source to keep the same structure so each piece of writing will have exactly the same format, style, and consistency. Editing time is reduced by increasing the task’s ease.

Structured authoring has the following advantages:

  • Content reuse helps to avoid content duplication and make maintenance easier.
  • Structure enforcement is used to make sure certain topic types always have the same parts in the right order.
  • Collaborative work. All authors can have access to the same content files and contribute to the same manual.
  • Single-sourcing output for different audiences.
  • Consistency. XML here will not allow writers to author creatively.
  • Multi-format output. Separation of content from styling allows sending the same content through multiple stylesheets to create multiple outputs.
  • Content management. XML files are in text format, which lends itself to setting up a repository for storage.

Despite a lot of advantages it gives, structured authoring is not a jack-of-all-trades. Structured authoring does not fit for:

  • The small scope of documentation.
  • Creative writing.
  • Low-value content.
  • Budget savings.
  • Novices in technical writing.

There are many tools that allow you to enjoy the benefits of structured authoring. Such tools are essentially text editors that you can use with a markup language such as XML or DITA to “tag” content based on a predefined structure or set of rules, called a document type definition (DTD). Examples are: Adobe FrameMaker (structured), oXygen, XMetaL, ArborText.

Structured authoring offers the prospect of automated formatting and better management of information. So if a company generates a lot of content spread around different departments, structured authoring may be the right choice, and if you’re still in doubts, read about the alternative to structured authoring in - Implementing Structured Authoring

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