Authoring tools do matter

Sarah O'Keefe / Opinion5 Comments

“I can write in anything.”
“The tool doesn’t matter.”
“I can learn any new tool.”

Most of the time, I agree. But then, there are the exceptions.

One of our customers is using FrameMaker to produce content that is delivered in HTML. (They use structured FrameMaker, generate XML, and then transform via XSLT into HTML.) Their rationale for using FrameMaker was:

  • The project was on an extreme deadline.
  • The writers already knew FrameMaker.
  • FrameMaker is already installed on the writers’ systems.

All valid points.


We have had a continuous stream of requests from the writers to make adjustments to the FrameMaker formatting. Things like “the bullets seem a little too far from the text; can you move them over?”

FrameMaker is being used as an authoring tool only. FrameMaker formatting is discarded on export; HTML formatting is controlled mainly by CSS. However, even after repeated explanations, we continue to receive requests to modify the FrameMaker formatting.

In this specific case, the authoring tool does matter. Writers are focusing on the wrong set of issues (leading, kerning, print formatting), none of which is actually relevant for the output.

Why are they focused on this stuff? Because they can. It seems to me that moving authors to a WYSIOO (what you see is one option) tool, such as oXygen or XMetaL, instead of a WYSIWYG tool (FrameMaker) would eliminate the obsession with irrelevant formatting.

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.

5 Comments on “Authoring tools do matter”

  1. You don’t mention whether the writers’ drafts are put through some kind of review process and whether perhaps those drafts might be output from FrameMaker. If so, the appearance of the text formatting of the drafts would matter a bit to the writers and their reviewers.

  2. Have to agree that authors, esp. those with limited or no layout experience and formatting expertise, should be encouraged to avoid the distraction of WYSIWYG. This is even more true if WYS in the authoring environment is not really WYgonnaG in the end-product publishing target environment.

  3. I agree. There’s a certain freedom to writing content in a WYSIWYG XML editor. Writers can concentrate on content and still see enough formatting to get some sense of orientation.
    Structured Frame is great, but I believe that it’s time to move to other tools when using XML architectures. I’m curious to know your take on how oXygen is stacking up to XMetal.

  4. It is my impression that writer’s with time to care about bullet point distances are having far too much time available. For years I have not met this type of tech writer.
    OTOH I have met people coming from so-called »true« XML editors and they love working with Structured FrameMaker. During editing they make the tags visible, to be able to print they just switch them off.

  5. Looks like everyone agrees, and with some clients we’ve had the same problem explaining WYSInotwhatyouget.
    Giving up all of that control in the authoring tool is hard, especially if, as an author, you’ve previously made a point of the quality of your output. That’s a big change to make.

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