As a product designer, you know that effective technical writing is crucial in creating high-quality product documentation. However, have you ever considered using structured authoring in your technical writing process? Structured authoring is a method of writing that involves breaking down content into smaller, reusable chunks that can be organized, classified, and connected in various ways. This article will explain the benefits of structured authoring in technical writing and how it can help you create better product documentation.
Structured authoring is becoming increasingly popular in technical writing. According to a survey by Content Wrangler, 63% of technical communicators reported using structured authoring tools in 2020, up from 57% in 2018. This trend is expected to continue as more companies realize the benefits of structured authoring in improving content quality, reducing costs, and increasing efficiency.
The importance of technical writing in product design must be considered. In a survey of over 500 product development professionals by Arena Solutions, 82% of respondents said that clear, accurate, and up-to-date documentation was important or very important in ensuring product success. Product documentation can lead to increased support calls, lower customer satisfaction, and reduced product adoption. Technical writing is especially important in product design, where accurate and complete documentation can mean the difference between a successful launch and a costly failure.
This article aims to explain the benefits of structured authoring in technical writing. We will discuss how structured authoring can improve consistency and accuracy, reusability and scalability, and multichannel publishing and localization. We will also provide tips on implementing structured authoring in your technical writing process and overcoming common challenges.
By the end of this article, you will understand the importance of structured authoring in technical writing and be able to make an informed decision about whether to adopt structured authoring in your product design process. So, as a product designer, read on to learn how structured authoring can help you create better product documentation and improve your product design process.
What is structured authoring?
Structured authoring creates content that involves breaking down information into small, modular pieces that can be reused and recombined in various ways. This approach allows for greater consistency, accuracy, and efficiency in technical writing and easier multichannel publishing and localization.
In structured authoring, content is created according to a set of principles or rules that define the structure and organization of the information. These principles include using standard tags or labels to identify different types of content, such as headings, paragraphs, tables, and figures. They also include rules for organizing and linking content, such as through hierarchical structures, cross-referencing, or indexes.
Structured authoring often contrasts with unstructured authoring, which involves creating content without predefined structure or rules. Unstructured authoring is common in traditional word processing tools, where authors can write content in a freeform style without predefined templates or formatting.
Structured authoring offers several benefits over unstructured authoring, including greater consistency, accuracy, and reusability. Authors can easily reuse content across different documents, projects, or channels by breaking down content into smaller, reusable chunks. This saves time and effort, reduces errors, and ensures that content is consistent and up-to-date across all channels.
Several tools are available for structured authoring, including XML-based tools such as DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture), DocBook, and S1000D. These tools allow authors to create content according to predefined structures and templates, ensuring that content is consistent and well-organized. They also offer automatic indexing, cross-referencing, and content reuse, which can save time and improve efficiency.
In summary, structured authoring is a method of writing that involves breaking down content into small, reusable pieces organized and classified according to predefined principles or rules. This approach offers several benefits over unstructured authoring, including greater consistency, accuracy, and reusability. Several tools, such as DITA and DocBook, are available for structured authoring, which can help authors create high-quality technical documentation more efficiently.
Benefits of structured authoring in technical writing
A. Consistency and accuracy:
Structured authoring is a powerful tool for ensuring consistency and accuracy in technical documents. By breaking down content into smaller, modular pieces, authors can create reusable chunks of information that can be easily maintained and updated over time. This allows for greater consistency and accuracy, as content can be reused across different documents and channels without the risk of errors or inconsistencies creeping in.
Consistency and accuracy in technical documents can have serious consequences for product design. For example, suppose a user manual contains consistent or correct information. In that case, it can lead to confusion or frustration for the user, ultimately resulting in reduced customer satisfaction and increased support costs. Inaccurate or inconsistent technical documentation can also lead to legal or regulatory compliance issues, which can be costly and time-consuming.
Structured authoring helps to ensure consistency and accuracy by providing a framework for creating and managing content. Using standardized tags and labels to identify different types of content, authors can ensure that content is consistent across different documents and channels. This also makes it easier to update content in one place and have those changes propagate throughout the document or across different documents.
For example, you're a product designer creating a user manual for a new product. Using structured authoring, you might create a separate module for each type of content, such as product specifications, installation instructions, and troubleshooting guides. Each module would be tagged and labeled according to a predefined structure, making organizing and maintaining the content easy. When it comes time to update the user manual, you can update the relevant modules and have those changes automatically propagate throughout the document.
In summary, structured authoring helps ensure consistency and accuracy in technical documents by breaking down content into smaller, reusable modules that can be easily maintained and updated over time. This helps reduce errors and inconsistencies, improving the overall quality of the documentation. By using structured authoring in your technical writing process, you can create high-quality product documentation that meets the needs of your users and supports the success of your product design.
B. Reusability and scalability:
Structured authoring also offers significant benefits in terms of content reusability and scalability. By breaking down content into smaller, modular pieces, authors can create content that can be easily reused across different documents and projects. This allows for greater efficiency and flexibility in the technical writing process, as authors can save time and effort by reusing existing content rather than creating new content from scratch.
Structured authoring makes it easier to scale content up or down as needed. For example, if you need to create a new version of a technical document for a different audience or product, you can easily reuse existing content and adapt it to the new requirements. This saves time and resources, as you can start from scratch each time you create a new document.
The reusability and scalability of structured authoring can save significant time and resources in product design. For example, if you need to create documentation for a new product, you can reuse content from previous projects, such as technical specifications, installation instructions, and troubleshooting guides. This saves time and effort, as you don't need to recreate existing content. Additionally, using a structured authoring approach, you can ensure that the content is consistent and accurate across different documents and projects.
Structured authoring also allows for greater scalability in technical writing. For example, suppose you need to create documentation for a product available in multiple languages or formats. In that case, structured authoring allows you to easily create translated versions of the content without starting from scratch. This saves time and effort; you don't need to recreate the content in each language or format.
In summary, structured authoring allows for greater content reusability and scalability, saving significant time and resources in product design. By breaking down content into modular pieces and using a standardized approach to content creation, you can easily reuse and adapt content for different documents and projects. This helps improve efficiency and flexibility in the technical writing process, allowing you to create high-quality product documentation more efficiently.
C. Multichannel publishing and localization:
Structured authoring enables multichannel publishing, meaning content can be easily published across various formats and channels. By breaking content into modular pieces, authors can easily adapt content for different formats, such as online help, PDF documents, web pages, and mobile apps. This means that users can access the product documentation on their preferred channel or format, improving the overall user experience.
Structured authoring also facilitates content localization, adapting content for different languages and cultures. By separating content from its presentation, structured authoring enables content to be easily translated and localized. Companies can create product documentation in different languages, making their products more accessible to global audiences.
Multichannel publishing and localization can improve product accessibility and global reach. For example, suppose you're selling products in different countries. In that case, you can create product documentation in the local language, making it easier for users to understand and use the product effectively. This can improve customer satisfaction, as users are more likely to trust and recommend products tailored to their needs and preferences.
Structured authoring also makes updating and maintaining product documentation easier across multiple languages and formats. By creating content in a modular format, authors can update individual pieces without affecting the rest of the document. This saves time and effort, as you don't need to recreate the entire document each time you change.
In summary, structured authoring enables multichannel publishing and localization, allowing companies to create product documentation that is tailored to the needs of different audiences and cultures. By creating content in a modular format, authors can easily adapt the content for different formats and languages, improving the product's overall user experience and global reach. This makes creating high-quality product documentation that meets users' needs worldwide easier.
Implementing structured authoring in technical writing
Now that you understand the benefits of structured authoring, let's explore how to implement it in your technical writing process. Here are some steps to follow:
Analyze your current technical writing process: Before implementing structured authoring, assessing your current technical writing process is important. This will help you identify any inefficiencies and areas that can be improved. You can start by reviewing your existing content and identifying common elements that can be reused.
Choose a structured authoring tool: Many structured authoring tools are available in the market, and choosing one that fits your specific needs is important. Some things to consider when choosing a tool include the level of complexity of your content, your budget, and the types of outputs you need.
Develop a style guide and content model: A style guide and content model will help ensure consistency and accuracy in your content. Your style guide should outline rules for grammar, spelling, formatting, and other important aspects of technical writing. Your content model should define the structure and organization of your content.
Train your technical writing team: Once you have chosen a structured authoring tool and developed your style guide and content model, you should train your technical writing team to use the tool effectively. This may involve providing training materials, hands-on training, and ongoing support.
Tips for choosing the right structured authoring tool:
Consider your budget and the level of complexity of your content.
Look for tools that integrate with other software applications you use.
Choose a tool that offers good support and training resources.
Consider the types of outputs you need, such as online help, PDFs, or mobile apps.
Challenges to expect and how to overcome them:
Implementing structured authoring can be challenging, but you can overcome common hurdles with the right approach. Here are some challenges you may encounter and how to address them:
Resistance to change: Some members of your technical writing team may resist changing their writing process. To overcome this, it's important to communicate the benefits of structured authoring and provide training and support to help your team adjust.
Adapting to new tools and workflows: Structured authoring may require a different workflow than your current process. To address this, provide training and support to help your team learn the new tools and workflow.
Ensuring content quality: Structured authoring can help ensure content consistency and accuracy, but it's important to monitor the quality of the content. This may involve reviewing content regularly and making updates as needed. Implementing structured authoring in your technical writing process can improve content quality, consistency, and scalability.
To successfully implement structured authoring, choosing the right tool, developing a style guide and content model, and training your team effectively are important. You may encounter challenges, but by addressing resistance to change, adapting to new tools and workflows, and monitoring content quality, you can overcome these challenges and create high-quality technical documentation.
Structured authoring is a valuable tool for improving the quality, consistency, and scalability of technical writing in product design. By adopting structured authoring principles, you can save time and resources, ensure accuracy and consistency, and reach a global audience with multichannel publishing and localization.
To learn more about structured authoring and how it can benefit your technical writing process, we invite you to read more on the GoCreate USA blog. Our blog offers a wealth of information on technical writing and other product design and development topics.
In addition, if you're interested in improving your skills as a product designer, we encourage you to check out the GoCreate USA bootcamp and mentorship program. Our program provides free tutoring and mentorship from industry experts and opportunities for hands-on experience in product design. To learn more about our program and how to apply, visit our website today.