Enterprise content: Making structured authoring stick

March 9, 2022
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In just about any size business, content can get messy. In an enterprise driven by the pressure to grow and scale, managing content can become a bottleneck that starts to look insurmountable.

If you’re responsible for content at any level, you see and feel this weight every day. Sometimes it seems like other parts of the organization are blissfully unaware.

But there comes a point when just getting by doesn’t cut it anymore. It often starts with content teams trying to make the shift to structured authoring—kind of a grassroots call to action. However, well-intentioned initiatives aren’t enough.

How do you know if you’re ready for structured authoring?

So why do some companies fail to make the leap to structured authoring even when they have all the trappings of a massive content mess?

First, let’s look at six factors that point to structured authoring readiness. (Tip: you may need to stop using phrases like “structured authoring” for the sake of the business case).

1. Make sure your documentation is a fit

Assuming you have the right people in place, the next question is:

Do you have the right kind of documentation for structured authoring?

Regina Lynn Preciado of Content Rules argues that enterprise content by definition “must also be able to scale right alongside business growth”. In addition, “structured content was designed to enable content to scale.”

Enterprise content is a broad category. So, here are some guidelines to evaluate whether your particular flavor of content is a fit.

Not worth it

Single product that is simple to document 
You have no need for multi-channel publishing.

It depends

Multiple layouts
You are spending too much time recreating layouts, branding, and creating a specific “look and feel”.

Design-heavy documents
You rely on a graphic designer to create as well as maintain complex, unique designs for each page

Note: If you’re migrating content from Adobe InDesign, for example, and want a very specific graphical representation in the output, expect extensive customization on the import side, which could be costly or time consuming.

Best fit

Content reuse
You have content that’s reused across multiple channels, teams, or both (and you’re tired of cutting and pasting).

Multiple layouts
You spend too much time recreating layouts, branding, and creating a specific “look and feel”.

Multiple users
Your team also has more than one content creator. Therefore, you need to manage consistency and collaboration.

Multiple product versions
Additionally, you maintain multiple streams of software or hardware in parallel.

Multiple formats
You release in both print and online formats (like HTML5, PDF print, SCORM eLearning, Zendesk, Salesforce)

Multiple languages
You support more than one language and use a translation management system

2. Use tools that make structured authoring simple for authors and contributors

Over the past decade, structured authoring mostly meant working in DITA (especially in North America), or DocBook. Authoring tools were notoriously difficult to use and writers often felt frustrated or overwhelmed. Writing in a structured authoring environment was either too rigid, or required specialized training to implement.

From one of Paligo’s users, who used to work extensively in DITA:

I was having to spend so much time figuring out how to use the [DITA] tool and I had so much work to do, that it was just too much. I didn’t want to spend any more time figuring out conkey refs and building out mapping tables. I wanted it to be simpler.

You have a choice

Thankfully, we have more choices today that make structured authoring simple for authors and contributors. Cloud tools like Paligo have made ease of use a priority, which reduces friction everywhere in the content creation process.

Easy structured authoring

In Paligo for example, once your layouts and CSS are configured (such as outputs for PDF and Zendesk), you don’t need to think about them again. Simply upload your logo and add company branding within a few minutes. And it’s simple to build publications from reusable content, taking advantage of multi-channel publishing—all without being an expert in XML, DITA, or DocBook.

3. Ensure widespread adoption outside of the core content group

The next factor to consider is whether you can “sell” a new way of creating content beyond the core content group.

Making an impact

Make sure the documentation team is seen as making an impact across the organization. For example, a product’s release may depend on finishing the documentation on time. Thus, a team with an efficient and structured way of managing releases can turn around reviews and approvals quickly.

Saving time for every department

Another way to attract allies is to demonstrate how content can be updated once and used everywhere. Creating reusable content is a new way of thinking about documentation. It’s also an easy skill to learn. Using a tool like Paligo can help by keeping reusable snippets, chunks, and topics organized, findable, and easy to update.

4. Calculate the ROI of structured authoring

Even if you have the vision, the consensus, and everyone’s best wishes, a structured content initiative can still stumble if adequate resources aren’t applied to it. Make the best case for the resources you need by calculating the ROI.

As a starting point, make sure you answer the following questions:

  • How much does your organization spend on documentation, training and support each year?
  • How do your teams spend their time, including writing, editing, copy/pasting, formatting, planning, and organizing?
  • What is the cost of delayed content releases?
  • How much could you save through content reuse, faster authoring, reviewing and translation, publishing efficiencies, support costs and ticket deflection?
  • What are the hardware and software costs of the authoring tools?
  • What are the implementation costs?

5. Develop a clear onboarding and implementation plan

The final duck in this row is a clear onboarding and implementation plan. Without it, you can’t demonstrate TTV to your stakeholders.

When you’re implementing structured authoring, you want to get back to your stakeholders  with a definitive timeline. The companies whom Paligo’s Customer Success team have seen do this best have taken a divide and conquer approach to planning.

Here are some ways to organize your team in the planning phase and the questions you need to answer:

  • Implementation
    • How are you going to have a successful import of and migration of content? 
    • Are you working closely with the vendor’s professional services/customer success team? 
  • Information architecture
    • How are you going to organize the content once it’s been imported? 
    • What are the regular patterns to the content that will make the documentation consistent?
  • Layout and style
    • What should your content look like in different formats? 
    • What are all the styles to use across the different content types?
  • Standards and structure 
    • What standards or industry regulations will the content follow? 
    • How will you make them consistent?
  • Delivery
    • Where are you publishing your content, and who is supporting you there?
    • Are you working with a DevOps team to set up a continuous delivery pipeline or are you integrating with a service tool like ServiceNow, Salesforce, or Zendesk?
    • Are you publishing to a dedicated platform for this type of content, such as Zoomin and Fluidtopic?

Also factor in regularly scheduled content releases. If the migration is happening in the middle of all that, what’s the strategy? How will you manage releases while content is being migrated?

6. Get buy-in from stakeholders

This first factor is arguably the most important—getting buy-in. It’s your job to tailor your message to each group of stakeholders, and prove that the value of solving the content mess by far outweighs the cost of not doing anything at all.

Let’s start by breaking down what we mean by stakeholder. You have to make your case to:

  • Enterprise leaders, the people who make strategic decisions for the company as a whole
  • Niche influencers and managers in different groups who are impacted by content, like finance, legal, product, and support
  • Subject matter experts who contribute to your content
  • Writers and content creators who write the bulk of the words

To do this, you need to know your audience.


For this group, make sure you speak their language, which means ditching content jargon like “structured authoring”, “content models”, and “single sourcing”, and speak in terms of business outcomes, time to value (TTV), and ROI. For example, the ROI of a CCMS (where structured authoring plays a huge role), can be much higher than management is often aware of.

It’s also worth noting that what may be obvious to you isn’t obvious to leaders who have other crises to battle. Content strategist Scott Abel tells the story of making the business case for a big content project. His boss wanted to know:

Why exactly do we need to change? … How are you going to overcome those challenges and make the changes you need? Do you have a plan of attack and some estimates on how much money and time we are wasting and what things you think you can do to change things? And, what return on investment do you believe we can achieve for these efforts?

Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler

If you can’t answer these questions for these particular stakeholders, then nothing else you do will move the needle.

Subject matter experts (SMEs)

It’s often a challenge getting SMEs to review the docs. Make the process as simple as possible with tools that are easy to use and processes that fit their workflow. But don’t stop there. Encourage constant feedback so that your experts feel valued and consulted. Don’t overlook their user experience.


For the people who do most of the writing, find out if they have the skill set, the motivation, and even the excitement to take on structured authoring. You might think the answer is obvious, but don’t discount the challenges of asking people to change how they work.

Are your writers ready to make the switch from what they know?

As one of Paligo’s customers who converted to structured authoring, says “motivated teams see the most success. They see the value and are motivated to work in a structured authoring environment.”

When you can prove to them that writing for content reuse actually improves their work instead of adding complexity, you’re halfway there.

Wrapping up

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably yearning for a solution to a content mess.

The technical side

Because the pain points are easy to spot, you may be tempted to focus on the technical side of the solution. After all, if there’s a tool that helps you avoid endless cutting and pasting…or manual reformatting…or storing multiple versions of the same doc in three different locations, then that’s a win, right?

But, it’s more than choosing the right software.
Carrie Hane writes, “Structured content is not just a technical problem. It is also a people problem.”

The people side

Start here first, with the people-side of the equation before you evaluate your documentation. User adoption is everything when moving to structured authoring. Only then consider the tools available, the resources at your disposal, and the implementation plan. When that’s done, you’re left with a clear picture of your company’s readiness to tackle structured authoring.