How structured authoring can reduce document production time by half

February 15, 2024
image shows woman who works with structured authoring on computer

Every business creates content, and they create a lot of it. Content helps people understand what to do and how to use products and services, whether it’s documentation of processes, product and service documentation, or some other type of documentation. With the explosion of documentation needed and the speed at which it needs to reach customers, employees, and teams, traditional approaches to managing it are no longer working.

A new approach is needed. One that allows you to create and update content quickly while ensuring it’s consistent and accurate across the channels you publish it. Structured authoring is this approach. When you use it, you can reduce production time by half. Seems straightforward, doesn’t it? Let us show you why it’s so effective and efficient if you’re on the fence.

Three Core Principles of Structured Authoring

There are three core principles of structured authoring that we’ll cover in this article.

It Introduces a Systematic Framework

Structured authoring introduces a systematic framework emphasizing modularization, consistency, and reusability. It involves using predefined structures and formats to ensure that information is presented in a standardized way.

This framework consists of templates, standardized markup languages (XML being the best one), modular content, content reuse, version control, and automation. It enhances consistency, efficiency, and accuracy of documentation.

It Promotes Agility and Collaboration

With structured authoring, you don’t think of content as separate documents you write but as a series of topics, modules, or components that, when combined, create unique documents.

By adopting structured authoring, organizations can break down content into manageable components, fostering a more agile and collaborative environment for writers, editors, and subject matter experts.

It Creates Highly Adaptable Content

Structured authoring based on the XML standard is highly adaptable. It facilitates automated processing that can enforce consistency, ensure adherence to defined formatting and style guidelines, and make content validation easier. It also allows for seamless updates and modifications across multiple documents and it supports the ability to publish the content to multiple outputs.

Keeping these core principles in mind, let’s dive deeper into how structured authoring reduces the time required to produce documents.

image shows man using structured authoring on computer

How Structured Authoring Reduces Document Production Time

Here are three ways you can dramatically reduce document production time by following a structured authoring model.

Modular Content Creation

The traditional approach to producing documentation is to create unstructured documents (e.g., MS Word, Google Docs). A technical writer would be assigned a document to create, and they would go away and create it, writing new content and copying and pasting content from existing documents if needed. Once written, reviewed, and published, that document would reside on a network drive, support website, or wherever needed. The process is repeated for every document needed.

If changes happen to a document, only that document is affected. If parts of it were used in a second document (by copying and pasting or manually typing it), you may not even know that the second document needed to be updated. If you did know, making the changes is a manual process and anything done manually is prone to errors.

Structured authoring involves breaking content into modules or topics. You aren’t creating a complete document, but instead, writing modules that contain a specific topic or type of information. Each module is created independently and can be reused in multiple documents. If a module is updated, every document that uses that module is updated accordingly. It doesn’t matter what document you update; any document that uses the module is also automatically updated. It’s important to mention here that it’s structured authoring in combination with a CCMS that enables content creation and automatic updates.

A great example is the development of technical documentation. When you develop a product, you create multiple documents to support that product’s implementation, use, and support. Although each document stands independently, there is often similar content across documents. So, you would create modules (or topics) for features, specifications, product overview, troubleshooting, and FAQs, and authors can reuse these modules to create each document and create new modules.

Modular content significantly reduces the time spent on redundant writing tasks and accelerates the document creation process. It also promotes consistency and accuracy across publications.

In addition, you can assign multiple authors to work on different modules simultaneously and have them reviewed and edited independently, vastly speeding up the time required to author and publish documents.

image shows woman typing with a structured authoring system

Consistent Styling and Formatting

Structured authoring involves the use of templates and style guides that separate the content from how it’s formatted. Templates provide a predefined structure for different types of documents, ensuring consistency in layout and formatting. When you separate content from formatting, you can ensure that content is consistently formatted properly, following predefined standards.

For example, standardized templates for reports, manuals, or proposals can be developed and reused in a corporate setting. This ensures that all documents adhere to the same formatting guidelines, reducing the need for manual adjustments and minimizing the risk of inconsistencies. The same applies to documentation produced for user guides and implementation manuals for a new product.

Compare this to creating your documents in Word. You apply formatting directly to the content, including things like font typeface and font size. You apply margins and put page breaks where it makes sense for the document you are working on. But if you try to apply that formatted content to another location, say from Word to a web page on a mobile phone, the formatting could break or make the content challenging to read.

You might think that HTML and stylesheets also separate content from style, and it does to some degree. But HTML is only one type of output or publication format. The content is not reusable for other formats.

Style guides can also establish rules for language usage, terminology, and other elements, maintaining uniformity across documents.

The consistency of structured authoring enhances the professional appearance of documents and saves time that would otherwise be spent manually adjusting styles. You can read more about the separation of content from layout in this article.

image shows woman disappointed using google and docs

Content Reusability and Single Sourcing

One of the most powerful aspects of structured authoring is the ability to reuse content across multiple documents. For example, a company’s product description can be authored once and reused in user guides, marketing materials, and online support documentation.

In addition, rather than recreating the same information for different outputs (such as user manuals, online help, and training materials), structured authoring allows authors to “single source” content. Content created for a user guide can be used on a web page and published as a PDF, or uploaded to a helpdesk solution as a knowledge base article.

When updates are necessary, they are made in one central location, with the changes automatically reflected in all associated documents. This not only reduces the time spent on redundant writing but also ensures accuracy and consistency throughout all content, regardless of the delivery platform.

Structured authoring simplifies the localization and translation of content as well. Since the structure is predefined, it’s easier to identify and extract text for translation. Translators can work on individual modules, and the translated content can be seamlessly integrated back into the overall structure.

Reusability and single sourcing apply to more than text-based content. You can also single source your images and other media content. Think about updating screenshots or images of parts in multiple documents. It’s easily done when you use structured authoring.

“Content reuse is a great not-so-new frontier that most of my customers are either entering or have used for a while now. It is, perhaps, the biggest time-saver in the content creation process. Why recreate that which already exists? Instead, reuse as much as you can and save your “real work” for the new and different things.” – Val Swisher, Structured Authoring: Without it, You’re Spending Too Much Time Creating Content

Ready to Reduce Your Document Production Time with Structured Authoring?

Structured authoring is not just a modern approach to content creation; it’s a strategic methodology that significantly enhances efficiency and consistency. It serves as a catalyst for enhanced productivity, collaboration, and document quality. It’s an authoring model that has been around for a while but has increased in popularity lately due to the amount of documentation organizations need to create and the speed and efficiency required.

By adopting a structured authoring methodology, you can revolutionize your organization’s document production workflows, achieving the elusive goal of reducing production time by half while simultaneously elevating the overall quality of your content.

Don’t forget to read our interview series with Roger Gelwicks where he goes into further detail about structured authoring in the Paligo CCMS.