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April 2, 2014

Making the most of your conversion to XML, part 2

You’ve made the transition to an XML workflow for publishing your technical content, converted all of your legacy content, and started authoring in the new system, as discussed in part 1 of this post. Although you now have a much better outlook on sustainability, you’re still facing a problem: your content creators are having trouble with the idea of separating content from formatting.

If you’ve spent years in a print-based workflow, this mindset can be understandably difficult to change. As your content creators work within the new system, new habits will gradually begin to take over the old ones. In the meantime, you can help jump-start their new perspective by showing them how the benefits of an XML workflow outweigh the ability to control every aspect of formatting and page design.

Content that is created and formatted separately will be:

Learn to embrace content creation for multiple outputs. flickr: adactio

Embrace your new publishing possibilities.
flickr: adactio

  • Easier to update. When your content creators don’t have to worry about how things fit on a printed page, they can focus all their attention on the content itself. Since no formatting or design expertise is required to create XML documents, SMEs and other contributors who may not have been qualified to edit the files in a print-based environment can now update the files directly.
  • More consistent. Special, one-off formatting choices that may have made the content less consistent are no longer an issue in XML. When tables, images, and paragraphs are structured the same way every time they’re used, the content will be much better organized, and ultimately easier for the user to consume.
  • More versatile. Content from a single XML source can be transformed into numerous output types—print, PDF, HTML, EPUB—giving the target audience more control over how they want to consume it. Documentation created for print gives the reader a much more limited set of options.
  • More accessible. Content stored in XML is more easily searchable than print documents or print-based outputs such as PDF. Digital outputs from XML (such as HTML) can also be made more accessible by giving the user the option to adjust fonts, sizes, and colors or pass it through a screen reader.
  • More sustainable. Since anyone with or without page design skills can update the content, your content creation team can grow and change over time as needed. It will also be easier for your business to adapt to the development of new products, the introduction of new requirements (such as adding languages to your localization workflow), or overall company growth if your content is in XML. A print-based system will not be as sustainable as XML in an increasingly digital world.

When page design has always been part of your content creators’ process, it won’t be easy for them to break away from that pattern, and it will take time. But with encouragement—and evidence showing how separating content from formatting improves both the user experience and your publishing workflow—they may be a little quicker to embrace the change.