You can tell that Mollye Barrett has spent time in the South. During a recent talk on the content lifecycle, the Milwaukee-based content-management expert observed that when it comes to structured authoring, “you need to be immersed. It’s no good just to be sprinkled.”
Whether your platform of choice is DITA or something else, structured authoring is different from traditional authoring.
- It employs semantic elements — elements that give meaning to the content in them.
- It separates the task of formatting from the task of writing.
- Through reuse, it offers huge gains in efficiency and consistency.
The business case for structured authoring hinges on portability, efficiency, and consistency. When writers are asked to adopt structured authoring and aren’t told why or how they’re supposed to do it, nothing is gained. In fact, much is lost: the writers can feel threatened because they see new tools and processes being forced on them, and they can lose confidence because they sense something is different but they can’t identify what it is.
I’m convinced that most organizations would benefit by moving from traditional authoring to structured authoring. But you have to train your writers in both the why and the how of structured authoring. An hour-long seminar won’t do it. The writers need in-depth training that emphasizes the business reasons for structured authoring. That’s what Mollye’s metaphor means to me.
It does no good to use structures if you’re going to write as you’ve always written. Come down to the river and be immersed.
Originally published on the SDI blog, 9 May 2013