The Documentation Elephant
As technical communicators grapple with the changing processes and tools within which they work, we are seeing a gradual but dramatic evolution of technical writers into content developers. There is a new vocabulary being developed to describe this effort, from various project teams and various industries. Even though many of these phrases appear different and distinct, they are really describing different aspects of the same overall effort. This article helps to pull together these various phrases and explain the single effort, reducing the complexity of enterprise communication.

Introduction
As technical communicators grapple with the changing processes and tools within which they work, we are seeing a gradual but dramatic evolution of technical writers into content developers. There is a new vocabulary being developed to describe this effort, from various project teams and various industries. Even though many of these phrases appear different and distinct, they are really describing different aspects of the same overall effort. This article helps to pull together these various phrases and explain the single effort, reducing the complexity of enterprise communication.

As technical writers, we are working more online than ever before. We are beginning to work with documentation in a new way, so that we can repurpose the content and free it from the restrictions imposed by any particular delivery mechanism. We no longer solely create paper-publishable documents. We do not, as yet, have a good word for it; we do not have a single word or phrase that summarizes the effort or the deliverables. Nor can we use existing vocabulary because the concept is new. This is an aspect of the internetworked world where information is delivered multiple ways for diverse audiences. But let us look at the phrases currently growing in popular usage that refer to this effort.

Views of the Elephant
One of the more popular phrases, gaining in usage in many places, is "single-sourcing". This phrase is used when what they are emphasizing is delivery to multiple outputs from a single set of content. It is a way of saying that by putting content into a single data base or program, multiple outputs can be created, such as a printable manual and online help and technical papers, from that single source of content.

Some use the phrase "information reuse", when what they are emphasizing is the managing of the content, almost as if it was data, in order to allow reuse and repurposing. statement focusing on the content

Some use the phrase "structured authoring", a broader category for focusing on content and not presentation, when what they are emphasizing is the structure imposed by having your content fit certain rules that you define based on the types of information.This is also referred to as "XML authoring, a specific type of structured authoring, focusing on XML tagging or implementation.

Some use the phrase "content management", focusing on business, productivity, and how to deal with all the source, when what they are emphasizing is the managing of the content, almost as if it was data, in order to allow reuse and repurposing.. This also emphasizes information typing, focusing on content, but is used as a way to acheive many of the other items discussed here. Focus on content management typically involves expensive, centralized systems, as discussed in Fallacy of Content Management


Contributors to this page: Bill Albing .
Page last modified on Tuesday, October 26, 2004 02:14:00 pm EDT by Bill Albing.

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