Before XML, improve DTP
Thinking about migrating unstructured content to XML? Take a hard look at your existing desktop publishing workflow. The maturity of your DTP process will have a big impact on a move to XML.
Following a template-based DTP workflow is not just about implementing best-practice processes. Templates make a potential move to XML less expensive and painful.
Templates are key for efficient DTP
The cornerstone of a mature DTP workflow is the template: predefined paragraph, character, table, and other styles. With a template in place, authors don’t have to guess about the right formatting, and applying existing styles is much faster than manually adjusting the look and feel of content.
Templates also provide a consistent user experience: the standardization in formatting across a company’s content unifies information and reinforces branding.
There is an additional advantage to templatized content that deserves its own discussion: conversion.
Whether you are converting DTP files to web pages, online help, or even XML for a new structured authoring workflow, template-based content greatly increases the quality and efficiency of conversion. Conversion scripts map template styles to tagging for the new output.
Ad hoc formatting is much more difficult and expensive to script for automated conversion. If authors are not using templates well (or at all!) in a DTP workflow, content creation itself is inefficient, and by extension, all conversion efforts will be less efficient, too.
Before moving to XML, consider cleaning up the DTP process with better templates. Cleaning up unstructured content can be the right choice when, for example, some content needs to stay in the DTP workflow for a while because of release cycles.
Some unstructured source files are so poorly assembled that it will be more cost efficient to re-create the content in XML. You may split the difference: some DTP content gets cleaned up and is converted to XML, and other content gets re-created in XML. If you’re unsure of what path(s) to take, invest in a little third-party advice from a consultant—even if you intend to use internal resources for the actual conversion work.
There is not a one-size-fits-all solution for converting DTP files to XML. Automation through scripting, scheduling, and cost/benefit analysis all come into play.
Moving to XML is really hard for those who don’t use templates
For content creators, moving from DTP to XML is challenging. Period. But those working in a template-based DTP environment usually have an easier time with the transition to XML.
A mature DTP workflow has an implied structure defined by correct template use. Content creators who use templates correctly are already accustomed to working in a more controlled process. Moving to the guided authoring/enforced structure in XML content workflows is less of a shock for these template users.
For authors who don’t use predefined template styles and apply ad hoc formatting, moving from template-free content development to structure is a huge, difficult leap. These authors often feel too constrained by structured authoring tools and resist the change to structure. The already difficult transition to XML then becomes even less pleasant for everyone involved.
P.S. Also worth noting: templatized DTP is essential for efficient localization processes (free registration required for link).