E.g., 03/29/2020
E.g., 03/29/2020

It Starts With the Source

By: Valerie Swisher (Content Rules)

17 February 2014

What is the most important modern innovation in the content development sector of the language industry? Val Swisher of Content Rules argues: structured authoring. Find out how this new approach is changing the industry and why XML should be the foundation of your content development strategy. 

Whether you are involved in creating content or translating it, there is one thing that we all agree on: quality starts with the source. Well-written, well-organized, and easily-accessible source content is one of the key components of quality translation.  In order to best prepare content for multiple languages, the source content needs to be managed strategically. Smart LSPs are involved in this phase of the content lifecycle. Structured authoring tools and content management systems are one of the most important innovations for managing localized source content.

Historically, content was written in an unstructured fashion, using tools such as Microsoft Word. The author would start with the first word, keep writing and writing, and end with the last word. The content deliverable was one contiguous, serial piece of information. Nowadays, more companies are adopting a structured approach using XML as the authoring foundation.

Structured Authoring

In a structured environment, content is written in small, reusable chunks. The chunks are stored in a content management system (or component content management system) so that they can be easily retrieved and reused. Content deliverables, such as online help systems, user guides, training courses, and knowledge bases, are created by sewing the appropriate chunks together into a cohesive whole.

You can save a lot of money and time by reusing chunks of content in this way. For example, a topic that includes installation instructions can be used in an installation guide, online help system, and a knowledge base article. Those same instructions can also be used for the lab exercise in a training course. No changes need to be made to the content. It is simply repurposed for multiple uses.

Prior to using structured authoring technologies, each writer worked in a silo. The person working on the installation instructions never spoke to the person working on the knowledge base. The training developer did not speak with the online help creator. A company could have four or more people creating the exact same instructions, each intended for a different deliverable. Unstructured writing causes a lot of wasted time and money. In addition, four different people are likely to create four almost-the-same-but-different versions of the same instructions.

Separating Content from Format

Another benefit of structured content is its separation of the content from the format. The content itself has no particular format. Instead, the formatting instructions are contained in another file called a style sheet. You can apply many different style sheets to a single piece of content. Separating structure from format allows the content to be consumed on a variety of devices. For example, you can read content on a large screen, such as a laptop, or, using a different set of styles, you can format that same content to be read on a tablet or a smartphone.

Structured Authoring and Translation

“How does structured content affect translation,” you ask?  Structured content impacts translation in a number of ways.

First, a single chunk of content only needs a single translation. Rather than translating installation instructions in the user guide, the online help system, the training course, and the knowledgebase independently, the single chunk is translated and each of the content deliverables is built in each language. Once a chunk of content is translated, the translation can be reused and repurposed, just like the source content.

Translating content one time saves the customer a lot of money. It saves on word count, in-country iterations, multiple production cycles, management of multiple files, and so on.

Translating content one time can potentially keep the translation memory cleaner, too. When four writers create four almost-the-same-but-different versions of the same content, we can end up with an equal number of almost-the-same-but-different translations, one in each language. And as we add languages and versions, the number of almost-the-same-but-different pieces of translated content in the TM begins to exponentiate. Instead, we can write the content once and translate it once, and then reuse it as many times and in as many formats as we like.

Finally, using a structured approach to authoring content (and, by extension, translating content), greatly decreases the time it takes to produce the translated end-product. Production editing at the end of the process is streamlined, because the final deliverables are sewn together from a combination of already-translated chunks and newly-translated chunks. In an unstructured paradigm, each end deliverable has its own production cycle, its own production editor, and its own production expense – in its own language.

Bottom Line: Consolidation in the Marketplace

Strategically managing source content is the key to quality translations that are priced affordably.  Structured authoring is transforming the content development landscape, allowing developers to create content that can be reused, repurposed, and republished on multiple types of devices. “Write once, use many” is the goal. Structured content provides us with the ability to “translate once, use many,” as well.

It is no surprise, then, that language service providers and language technology service providers are buying up XML authoring tools and content management systems. These LSPs know that the best business model comes from being involved in the entire content lifecycle. Being involved from the beginning leads to benefits extended from creation, through management, translation, delivery, retirement, and eventual archiving of content.

Val Swisher founded Content Rules recognizing that even the largest companies often do not have the technology, people, and expertise to create content that is global ready. Founded in 1994, under her leadership the company has grown to encompass 20 full-time employees, 180+ customers, and an extensive network of contractors.