Virtues and Vulnerabilities of SGML

Subject: Virtues and Vulnerabilities of SGML
From: "George F. Hayhoe III" <george -dot- hayhoe -at- SRS -dot- GOV>
Date: Tue, 6 Dec 1994 09:03:00 -0400


Despite its virtues (the fact that it's an accepted standard and offers a
proven method of establishing document databases), implementing SGML can
cause significant problems. The biggest are devising the Document Type
Definitions (DTDs), each of which accurately describes all documents of a
particular type that your company/agency/entity produces, and getting the
documents marked up.

Producing a really good DTD is not a trivial task; it can require several
months--even years--of labor for a complex document type. There are generic
DTDs out there which offer starting points, but be prepared to work hard
even to customize a boilerplate DTD.

Once the DTD has been agreed upon, it must be implemented consistently.
That means either training document authors to do mark-up (good luck!) or
spending a significant part of your professional life inserting SGML codes
in documents. Although there are automated parsers and mark-up tools, these
are no more accurate than the spelling and grammar checkers that no
technical editor worth his or her salt relies on.

As for liberating writers from worrying about production details, dream on!

I've done a workshop on this subject at several STC regional conferences
during the past year. I'd be happy to send anyone interested a more
detailed version of the points outlined here if you contact me off the list
at george -dot- hayhoe -at- srs -dot- gov -dot-

For a published source on this side of the issue, see Edmond Weiss's
thought-provoking essay, "Of Document Databases, SGML, and Rhetorical
Neutrality," in the IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 36:2
(June 1993), 58-61.


--George Hayhoe (george -dot- hayhoe -at- srs -dot- gov)
Assistant to the President for Recognition Programs, STC

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