Re: Giving up on XML

Subject: Re: Giving up on XML
From: "David Neeley" <dbneeley -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2007 11:39:51 -0500

Among other things, Mike Starr observed:

"Even the best style guide needs to be
overridden once in a while. That's the value of an experienced writer."

I disagree.

For example, when I walked into a docs department at Nortel a few
years ago, I encountered legacy documents that were updated every six
months when a new software release was made for the telephone switch I
was to document. Writer after writer had blithely overridden the
document styles--and updating the document to produce a consistent
result was a veritable nightmare!

In my view, an "experienced" writer who is also a *professional*
documentation person should be among the first to object when a style
is being least with any document that must be issued
with revisions over a period of time.

It's really very simple--if the styles are not adequate, then *change
the style* instead of overriding it!

This is true of simple styles within the authoring tool as it is of
more strict rules of XML. In fact, the difficulty of enforcing a
reasonable and well-thought-out style set is a primary reason I don't
care for Word for documentation (although the Nortel example was in

Often, those who chafe at styles betray a poor understanding of the
styles--which may be the fault of inadequate documentation for the
style guide. When writers begin having trouble with any kind of style
guide, I believe that the department management should inquire as to
why, and be fully prepared to respond appropriately. However, I also
believe that for the reasons I stated above, they should insist upon
their styles being followed. The result is normally much more
maintainable docs.

Note, too, that I have several times advocated an approach in which
the creation of content is divorced from style imposition. I still
believe firmly it is far better for the bulk of the writers to spend
their time on substantive content, leaving questions of style to those
whose job it is to deal with them.


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