Unstructured vs. Structured (XML) Authoring Tools
There are two ways to author content: Unstructured and structured. Unstructured authoring refers to writing content with a traditional word processing application such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs. The author composes text in a document and applies formatting. To reuse information in another document, the author copies and pastes it. Unstructured content is static content that is locked in one format for a single purpose.
Structured authoring tools are based on Extensible Markup Language (XML) and take a different approach. Instead of using formatting to differentiate one item from another (such as making a title larger than a subhead), the writer differentiates by identifying each item's purpose. For example, the writer would mark a title as a <title>, and not as 24 pt Arial Bold.
Content that is structured inherently describes its meaning, purpose, and relation to other content.
Organisations are adopting structured XML authoring because structured authoring enables them to overhaul and streamline their content processes and is the foundation of content automation. Content automation reduces time to market for business critical content, improves information quality, reduces costs and facilitates compliance. You can read more about structured XML authoring if you're interested in learning about its technology and benefits.
Which Authoring Tool is Right for You?
Putting aside the specific vendor selection, the choice is between using an unstructured, lightly structured or structured authoring tool.
An unstructured authoring tool such as Microsoft Word is appropriate when you are producing a low volume of documents with little opportunity for content reuse, no translation, limited collaboration and when you only need to publish and deliver content to a single channel e.g. print only.
Lightly structured tools for story editing are ideal within medium to large newspaper and magazine publishers where the content structure is based around the simple concept of an article. In this environment, a designer has to be able to work on the layout of the publication in parallel to a journalist or editor creating and reviewing content. This light structure approach works adequately in this situation when used with a publishing system.
Creating structured content makes the most sense if you work for a large organisation that creates a high volume of similar documents with many revisions, that need publishing to multiple formats and especially when you are within a regulated industry.
The types of documents that structured authoring is appropriate for include investment research reports, fund fact sheets, standard operating procedures, product information, and training and instruction manuals to name but a few. If Microsoft Word is a must for you, then Quark XML Author for Microsoft Word enables structured authoring but within the familiar Word environment. If you’re looking for a more light-weight word processor environment that enables Web and mobile authoring, then Quark Author Web Edition makes structured authoring very accessible for non-technical authors. Both products integrate with Quark Publishing Platform for an end-to-end content automation solution.