If you are a tech­ni­cal writer or infor­ma­tion designer and you have never worked with XML, you might be won­der­ing why you should bother with XML. Using XML for author­ing tech­ni­cal doc­u­ments has a num­ber of advan­tages for writ­ers that can make it very worth­while to consider.


1. XML is an inter­na­tional standard

XML is a doc­u­ment stan­dard that is main­tained by the W3C, an orga­ni­za­tion that is respon­si­ble for Web stan­dards. XML doc­u­ments are vendor-neutral, and they are not tied to one appli­ca­tion or one company.

2. The name says it all: eXtensible

XML uses XML ele­ments or tags to define doc­u­ment struc­ture. By defin­ing the doc­u­ment struc­ture, you can then use out­side processes such as style sheets to manip­u­late and reuse con­tent. By sep­a­rat­ing con­tent from dis­play, you can use a sin­gle source of con­tent and use it in many dif­fer­ent contexts.

3. One size fits all users

Con­tent re-use saves com­pa­nies money and makes authors more effi­cient. XML sup­ports and pro­motes these sorts of processes by being flex­i­ble and mod­u­lar. You can cre­ate con­tent, and then re-use that con­tent in dif­fer­ent doc­u­ments.

4. You can sep­a­rate con­tent from dis­play formatting

XML allows you to sep­a­rate con­tent from for­mat. The for­mat­ting of the XML doc­u­ment is inside a sep­a­rate style sheet. This sep­a­ra­tion allows you to eas­ily main­tain and update for­mat­ting as needs change. It is easy to main­tain a con­sis­tent style for all doc­u­ments when the con­tent is sep­a­rate from the formatting.

5. XML can make your writ­ing more efficient

XML is very help­ful when you pub­lish in more than one lan­guage and when you pub­lish dif­fer­ent types of doc­u­ments from the same source. By stor­ing con­tent in XML source files, you can reduce trans­la­tion costs. Then if you need to cre­ate doc­u­ments in sev­eral lan­guages, you can pub­lish your files by just click­ing a but­ton. You don’t need to fid­dle with the for­mat­ting of the doc­u­ments. This for­mat­ting is auto­mat­i­cally applied when you pub­lish your source XML files.

–by Susan Bodnik

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