RE: Current trends in Authoring Tools?

Subject: RE: Current trends in Authoring Tools?
From: Troy Klukewich <tklukewich -at- sbcglobal -dot- net>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2007 08:37:34 -0800 (PST)

Good thread. It's great to hear what folks are using out there.

At larger companies with multiple products and international offices I'm seeing an increasing trend toward structured documentation, XML, and XSLT automation. Instead of Word, Frame, RoboHelp, or an HTML tool, writers use any number of XML editors, usually XMetal or Epic (XML Spy tends to be used more as a development tool). Writers have very little if anything to do with layout as presentation is handled programatically with XSLT and style sheets. The same transforms handle multiple outputs in batch, usually online Help and PDF.

I've worked with two companies in a row, PeopleSoft and Borland, that have moved either from Word or Frame to XML tools. I'm also hearing that a number of other companies in the Bay Area are either moving or have already moved to XML. From a business standpoint, the savings are considerable, especially for localizations, probably around 30% or more across the board.

I expect the trend to continue as companies mature. Considering that localizations cost more for documentation than for the products themselves (around 80% of translation costs), and that localizations can easily exceed the cost of an entire writing department, the trend to a more efficient documentation infrastructure will continue. The pressure from Translation is very real, though there are other advantages to structured documentation and XML tools.

I've seen a number of writers who could not make the transition to a structured strategy or absolve themselves of desktop publishing and presentation. The tool was really secondary. It was the authoring method they could not adapt to. Interestingly, I've seen that database writers often make the migration to XML tools and structured authoring methodologies better than some other writers, probably because they are already used to writing around objects and object-oriented content.

I would say that XML and structured documentation are growth trends that career-minded writers need to invest in if their companies are not already moving in that direction. Frame (unless Structured Frame) and RoboHelp skills are less and less desirable, if not unnecessary in a structured environment. Desktop publishing is handled programatically and in batch, much as it was in the old days prior to DTP.

In structured documentation shops, managers now want to know that writers can write to a specific, disciplined design, usually a three-tier concept-procedure-reference model with enforced schemas. The good news here is that, while managers may not care about your presentation or DTP skills, your pure authoring and information architecture skills are all the more important.

If I were to sum up the trend, I would say that presentation is being replaced by semantics. Instead of tagging presentation, writers are expected to tag the meaning of content. Instead of authoring chapters, writers are expected to construct flexible topic hierarchies with multiple presentations. The shift is fundamental. The tool follows function.

Troy Klukewich
Senior Manager, Documentation
& Documentation Services

Create HTML or Microsoft Word content and convert to Help file formats or
printed documentation. Features include single source authoring, team authoring,
Web-based technology, and PDF output.

Now shipping: Help &amp; Manual 4 with RoboHelp(r) import! New editor,
full Unicode support. Create help files, web-based help and PDF in up
to 106 languages with Help &amp; Manual:

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