SGML & The Technical Writer

Subject: SGML & The Technical Writer
From: Steve Owens <uso01 -at- EAGLE -dot- UNIDATA -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 11 Apr 1994 11:41:44 +0700

> What do others think? Does SGML encourage this view [that tech writers
> are just glorified typists]? Does SGML threaten to turn writers into
> clerks? Will it put writers out of work altogether?

> In a popular introductory book on SGML entitled "Practical SGML" by Eric
> van Herwijnen, the author says: "Authors are subject matter experts for
> whom it is a waste of time to be concerned with typography or document
> layout. Some call it creativity, but inside organizations where the author
> has free reign over format the result is usually an incoherent collection
> of badly looking documents."

> Do you agree with this statement?

I don't think van Herwinjnen's statement is an accurate
reflection of the idea of SGML. I also don't think that your implied
interpretation of the statement is accurate - although it's hard to be
sure without context. The idea of SGML has a few underlying concepts
that drive it - I'm not really into SGML (alas, one day I hope to
catch up) but from discussions around it (not about it, but about how
it will interact with the rest of the world) I believe my conclusions
are accurate. Anybody who's more intimate with the SGML concept,
please feel free to leap in and remove my foot from my mouth :-)

That said, SGML has the obvious concept inherent in the name -
Standardized General Markup Language, I believe. A markup language is
a set of relatively simple codes (unlike, for example, postscript)
embedded in a text to indicate things like fonts, type faces, styles,
etc. So one of the driving concepts of SGML is a standardized markup
language with a structure that is general enough to deal with any kind
of document. Part of this generality is the way it includes protocols
to *define* new kinds of documents.

Most markup languages set up these codes to design classes and
designate which pieces of text belong to which class. This is
fundamentally different from the now-prevalent WYSIWYG approach, where
you indicate font, type face, etc, by actually making the text look
like that. As the technology has progressed, the WYSIWYG applications
have gradually shifted towards providing this sort of classification
scheme, with Styles in MS Word, and Paragraph Formats in Framemaker,
to name two examples that come to my mind. SGML is particularly
oriented towards this sort of thing.

The driving concept here is that content should be divorced
from form as much as possible - not to remove the idea of form, but to
enable authors to build content, then apply form - and reapply it,
redesign it, alter it, edit it, etc, in manners that up until now have
been, conceptually speaking, inextricably entwined with defining
content. SGML gets closer to separating EXPRESSING the idea from
formulating the idea.

Is this good? Is this bad? Depends on how it's used. Any
idea can be misinterpreted or used to bad ends. Doubtless somebody out
there will try to use SGML to say that writers are obsolete. Others
(writers) will say that SGML is the antichrist. But in reality SGML
is just a new tool for writers to use in approaching the problem of
how to deal with information, a tool that more clearly separates the
job of collecting from the job of expressing, that changes the way we
do our jobs, but doesn't take over our jobs.

Steven J. Owens
uso01 -at- unidata -dot- com

Previous by Author: renaming Help
Next by Author: SGML & The Technical Writer
Previous by Thread: Re: SGML & The Technical Writer
Next by Thread: SGML & The Technical Writer

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads