Re: XML & Technical Writers...

Subject: Re: XML & Technical Writers...
From: Deborah Ray <debray -at- RAYCOMM -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 14 Apr 1998 12:44:49 -0600

Hi, Dan,

You've hit on a topic that should prove worthwhile to tech writers
in the very near future. Following is a (VERY brief and cryptic!)
rundown of what XML offers tech writers.

In addition to the data definition and exchange stuff that
you mentioned, XML

* Combines SGML's power and scope with HTML's ease of use,
giving you the best of both technologies. You can think of
XML as being "SGML-lite" or "HTML on steroids."
* Makes reusing information relatively easy and inexpensive--that is,
you can develop information to include in a product's documentation
and easily reuse it for training materials, product descriptions,
or whatever. You don't have to deal with recreating information,
changing formats, or addressing platform compatibility issues.
* Lets you create documents that meet very specific needs--
you create your own document structure and rules as well
as your own tags and attributes.
* Can help you develop consistent document sets. XML not only
lets you organize documents and information very precisely, but
it also can force developers to comply with the structure
and organization outlined in the DTD you create.
* Is great for creating large document sets, especially ones that
are developed by teams of people or developed over months or years.
As mentioned above, XML can force compliance with the DTD (so even
long, drawn-out projects can include consistent documents), and
it's text-based, meaning that the information will be readily
transferrable in the long term.
* Lets you identify contexts for words on the page--that is,
this is a figure caption, this is a figure reference, etc.
Because you create your own tags and attributes (and are not forced
to use ones that the W3C specifies), you can specify exactly how
words are used.
* Lets you address a potentially large audience using a
variety of platforms. As XML tools and technologies develop,
XML should help eliminate cross-platform, cross-software,
and browser-specific issues.

At this point, all signs indicate that XML offers the potential
of being an ideal tool for tech writers to learn and use. In fact,
tech writers are ideal candidates for using this technology because
we already have the information development, design, and presentation
skills necessary to develop these structured document formats.

Of course, all of XML's great potential for tech writers is just that--
potential. XML is still very new, and currently you won't find
many tools to develop or browse XML documents.

BTW (as I think Eric mentioned to you off line?), we are currently
working on an XML book, and we have just recently completed an
article on what XML offers tech writers--apparently a timely topic!

Hope this brief summary helps, and feel free to holler with
specific questions.


>I am attempting to do some research, in the form of in-person interviewing,
>on the subject of XML and its impact on technical writing. So far, while
>there is a lot out there about XML, I have found little about how technical
>writers might use it, or the possibilities it may open up in the field. XML
>seems to be targeted more towards business and information exhange, and
>less toward content creation, which may explain why there is little out

>Does anyone have any ideas about it this or leads to an interview?
>I am in the San Francisco Bay Area, but would be willing to interview via
>email, if necessary.

* Deborah S. Ray, debray -at- raycomm -dot- com,
* co-author _Mastering HTML 4.0_, _HTML 4 for Dummies Quick
Reference_, _The AltaVista Search Revolution_, and others.
* RayComm, Inc., currently accepting contract inquiries.

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