Tips for Reinforcing Structured Authoring Concepts Before the Actual Transition to XML

One of the hardest things to do is to get people to move from their comfort zones. When you begin to implement your content management strategy and move to structured authoring, you will likely see some resistance from a few writers who will say, “That’s not the way we’ve always done it!“ Ah, change! It can bring out the stubbornness in some people and make their boss’ hair turn gray as he drags them, kicking and screaming, into the new work environment.

But, there is an easier way to make the move from word processing to XML in a content management system (CMS). Take steps to change the way your staff works and thinks before actually making the transition and get them used to working in a structured environment by doing these things:

Enforce style.

Develop a custom editorial style guide for your organization, or choose a standard style guide, such as APA or Chicago style. Adhering to a specific style for your content base encourages consistency across the writing team.

Model content.

Build templates to enforce a specific structure as writers create new content. Templates determine the model of the content and provide the writers with a blank structure to “fill in“. Key phrases, such as “In this section, you will learn:“ to begin every concept module, can be preset in the template for 100% consistency. Using templates, the writers will begin to build new habits of working within consistent patterns.

Minimize choices.

Establish a list of predetermined phrases or terminology for areas that can be narrowed down to a few options (e.g., “Click the CANCEL button“ is a valid choice, whereas “Click CANCEL“ and “Press CANCEL“ are invalid options). Data validation will eliminate spelling and wording inconsistencies, and it will prevent other invalid content from being entered. Down the road, it will also increase your content reuse percentage when you load the content into a CMS.

Break it down.

As you assign writing tasks to your staff, begin to switch over to topic assignments rather than entire books or chapters. When working in structured authoring, the book paradigm is usually replaced with a more modular approach. These topic assignments will start to alter the current mindsets of the writers so they are prepared when they move to a structured authoring environment.

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