Understanding change resistance

Sarah O'Keefe / OpinionLeave a Comment

Implementing new technology presents numerous challenges — choosing new software, training staff on new technology and processes, setting up new workflows, and so on. For technical writers, the transition from traditional desktop publishing to XML-based workflows requires a significant shift in mindset. Instead of focusing on the appearance of the final deliverable (usually on paper), writers must now give up control over formatting, follow a set of structure rules, and assume that the end result will be formatted automatically.

You should not underestimate the difficulty that this transition presents. With that, I was disappointed to see the following at Accelerated Authoring:

If Pete decides to go for DITA, he’ll have to […] persuade management, get a budget, train writers and figure out how to manage the transition. Not easy. And, if the transition is not smooth, Pete could be penalized.

On the other hand, Pete could get through the transition period to DITA and leverage the same team that he had yesterday to produce more documents, more focused documents, better documents. Is there risk in the transition? Of course, but that’s what life is about – adapt or disappear.


“Pete” must first determine that the benefits of XML-based authoring outweigh the costs. Then, Pete needs to think about whether DITA is the right choice for his organization’s content.

DITA is not right for everyone. XML is not right for everyone.

Keep in mind that the benefits of XML generally go to management and the difficulties (worse tools, less control, more constrained authoring) are imposed on authors.

If you’re interested in more details, the slides from my Coping with the XML Paradigm Shift presentation are available here (PDF).

About the Author

Sarah O'Keefe


Content strategy consultant and founder of Scriptorium Publishing. Bilingual English-German, voracious reader, water sports, knitting, and college basketball (go Blue Devils!). Aversions to raw tomatoes, eggplant, and checked baggage.

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