separating authoring and composition [was features db]

Subject: separating authoring and composition [was features db]
From: Joyce Flaherty <flahertj -at- SMTPGW -dot- LIEBERT -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 24 Mar 1996 18:13:07 EST

RE to Chet Ensign and James Lockard questions

In an earlier post I described the several legs of my current project,
which is to evaluate SGML as a possible better way to store our
online technical information (substitute buzzwords "leverage our
knowledge base" freely). One leg involves separating authoring
and composition, about which I wrote:

<snip> ...taking the tool expertise and page design function away
> from the tech writers is another objective. I have read that
> page design can consume from 40%-an amazing 90% of a writer's
> time. I would like to see more of this time spent putting words
> that communicate into the computer. <snip>

Chet Ensign wrote:
<snip>
> Joyce, where did you read that? I'm hunting for references.
> I did an internal and informal study of some small but typical
> documentation projects that showed actual creative work (the
> putting words on paper part) was at best 25% of the writers time.
> I too would like to see that ratio grow, but I think that there
> are other ways to approach it than taking the **feel** of page
> design away from the writers.
<snip>
James Lockard agrees that the page design belongs with the
writers, and asks who is going do it in the SGML environment.

1-Chet, I believe Mary LaPlante (sp?), SGML expert, is responsible for
the 90%. Jeff Peppers (ServiceWare), Bill Horton, Travis and Waldt in
*The SGML Implementation Guide,* have something to say about it as well.
Ron Tonjes, who started a very successful local writing business,
ProWrite, has this to say: "If I allowed my writers to format, I
would be broke." *STC technical communication* broached the topic
recently. These sources normally say something like, "process
re-engineering experts suggest that..." but some actually cite
specific research. You have been very helpful recently. If you
are writing a paper and need the input, I can put some effort into
gathering specifics for you--at least one item <grin>.

2-Who will provide the look and feel of the document?
The writers will describe how document types are organized (structure)
and how documents look (format) by the SGML tags. In the target
environment, the structure and look is automated.

I think it's important to note again that I abandoned the book
metaphor long ago. My environment is an online information
database. The printed page is not as important to me as it might
be to you. My job is to retrieve only the information you need,
when you need it, and quickly. Still, I can't ignore the printed
page completely. If I don't find security software that I can
export, I have to print *something* for international. I also
have to provide the print function for logical chunks of information
for reps and field engineers.

Finally, I offer the following from *The SGML Implementation
Guide,* Conceptual Configuration of the Solution System:
"The best way to achieve efficiency improvements and cost
savings is to keep authoring and composition separate and
build a better bridge between these two functional
environments and to automate the composition functions
as much as possible."

joyce flaherty
flahertj -at- smtpgw -dot- liebert -dot- com


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