I know it sounds dramatic, but it's not hyperbole. If your business is regulated or has strict standards applied, XML is critical and quickly becomes a strategic advantage! XML gives you several advantages over desktop publishing that can help address immediate needs and future growth.
The key is in understanding what makes XML work and what it is designed to do. The challenge is in understanding how to make the shift.
In this session, we discuss some of the factors that compel forward-focused companies and consultants to make the leap to XML. You will learn what XML is, how it works, and how you can move from the trap that is desktop publishing into a flexible, dynamic structured authoring environment with ease. By the end of our talk, you will be able to comfortably answer the important questions: Why should you make the transition? How can you make the transition? And, when is the right time to make the leap?
Janice Summers, Single-Sourcing Solutions, specializes in helping people who’ve only ever used unstructured desktop publishing applications learn structured authoring. She’s been successfully transitioning Word users to XML authoring for the last 15 years and hasn’t lost anyone yet!
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Recorded: 4 May 2021
Transcript (Expand to View)
[00:00:12.490] - Janice Summers
Thank you. Thank you very much for having us and thank you all for showing up and for spending some time with us. Hopefully, I caught your attention with the title, XML Saves Lives. And hopefully, you'll see by the time we're done here today that it really is true, that it really can make that much of a difference. And XML can have a profound impact on your information. So I wasn't just being dramatic. It really is true.
[00:00:38.870] - Janice Summers
So before we get going, I want to talk about who this session is for because you might want to have the gift of time back if it's not for you. So this session is geared for people who create content that informs and instructs. So if you fall into that category, then stick around. If you manage a team that creates content, then stick around, especially if they've been trying to talk to you about XML. This presentation hopefully will help you understand a little bit more.
[00:01:11.110] - Janice Summers
If you're just curious about XML and were afraid to ask, then you're in safe hands here. You feel free to ask me any questions. I can be interrupted throughout the presentation. It's okay, or you can save it for the end. And if we run out of time, trust me, I will respond to all questions afterwards, too.
[00:01:33.130] - Janice Summers
Now, perhaps you're somebody who already understands the value of XML, you're pretty excited about it, but you're looking for ways to help others understand. Perhaps you're trying to sell it to the C-suite or you're trying to get the person who holds the purse strings to liberate some funds to help you move into XML.
[00:01:52.630] - Janice Summers
Hopefully by the end of the session, you'll have something to show them, to share with them that will help them understand the real value and what it means to your organization. Other than that, the other category, you're just here because you want the prizes, then stick around because there are prizes.
[00:02:11.740] - Janice Summers
Before we get going, I want to tell you who Single-Sourcing Solutions is. In case you don't know who we are, Liz Fraley is our founder and CEO. We've been around for a while. We come from the background that the technical communicators are in. So we have a little different approach. It's a little bit different, but that's okay. We're pragmatic that way.
[00:02:35.020] - Janice Summers
We offer a dynamic solution for helping you adapt and adopt XML authoring in your team. We believe firmly in empowering others. It's written into our DNA. So in everything, we try to strengthen your team.
[00:02:55.240] - Janice Summers
We have some public works projects that were particularly proud of. We're always involved in community outreach and community efforts. So I'll give you a link at the end and you'll be able to check out some of our free public works that you can tune into. And they're all geared towards professional and technical communicators, and they're various topics, and quite interesting, if you ask me.
[00:03:19.570] - Janice Summers
So I did say there's prizes. So I want you to look for the hidden Easter eggs through the slide deck. If you find one or more, send me an email, and I seriously will send you a prize. I'm not kidding.
[00:03:32.800] - Janice Summers
All right. So let's get started. So who should even care about XML? So the people who really should care about XML is if you create or your company creates a product or a service that serves people, then you really need to take a look at XML. You really need to think about it seriously. If you create professional technical information that informs or instructs people, then you really need to take a look at XML.
[00:04:08.210] - Janice Summers
So if you don't fall into those two categories, and if you're doing fiction writing, maybe not. XML might not be for you, but practically everybody else, XML is for you.
[00:04:20.720] - Janice Summers
Now if you create content or communications that are in a highly regulated industry, for example, in the US, we've got the FDA. So anyone who's in pharmaceutical, or cosmeceutical, or cosmetic, or medical, or medical device, you definitely should be an XML. FA&D, anyone in Defense, aerospace, you really need to be An XML.
[00:04:50.180] - Janice Summers
And there is a growing demand, and I'm not sure how it is in APAC. I know APAC and the European Union, they all have different ministries and agencies and institutes in all of the different countries. But I know in the United States, there's a growing requirement that you submit information in XML because they get it at the higher level. And these people are dealing with big data.
[00:05:15.770] - Janice Summers
But the beauty of XML is it doesn't just apply. Size doesn't matter. XML works on a small company and it works on a large company. It works on small data and it works on big data. So don't let that determine whether or not you look at XML. Again, go back to the first thing. If you create a product or a service that serves people, then you're going to have to communicate to the people. And that's where XML can make a huge difference for you.
[00:05:44.240] - Janice Summers
So think about it, if you've got a product for servicing people, use it. Something may go wrong, heaven forbid, but something may go wrong. What happens when the investigators take over? When they're investigating accidents and incidences, what's the first thing... Well, maybe not the first thing. Perhaps it's the second or it's definitely in the top five.
[00:06:08.870] - Janice Summers
What are they going to do? They're going to look to the documentation. That's where they're going to find their answers. The cold, hard answers that they're looking for. They're looking for, what were the instructions? Were there warnings? Were there cautions?
[00:06:23.690] - Janice Summers
What was the maintenance manual? What was the maintenance record? Who had access to the information? How was this accessed? How was this information delivered? Was it in print? Was it digital? Was it in alignment? Did they agree or were they different? Did they mismatch?
[00:06:43.610] - Janice Summers
All of these things all comes down to the accuracy, timeliness, and usability of the information that you provide to the end users. That's why your information becomes so mission critical. And it can really make the difference between life and death in certain situations. An XML can help you lock in your accuracy, make things more usable for your end users, and help you deliver information in a more timely manner.
[00:07:19.170] - Janice Summers
So think of it this way, it's the the life saver, the life support, the first aid kit for your information. It will help you reduce the risk because it improves the accuracy. It has a structure that's enforced. And that structure requires compliance from everybody who contributes.
[00:07:46.290] - Janice Summers
The other thing is it improves collaboration. So if you've got different departments collaborating on content or you've got different people in your company, in the same department, collaborating on a full project, you've got people across boundaries and borders and time zones, if you're in an structured authoring, it's easier for people to adapt and adopt a method and a procedure that matches.
[00:08:15.300] - Janice Summers
And again, if you're going to submit to regulators, a lot of the regulators are starting to require that you be an XML. And I know there's some people who've gamed the system a little bit for a little while, and they've gotten away with doctoring things up in desktop publishing. But that gap is closing now. And that ability, the game the system is going away. And really, honestly, there's no good reason for you not to to get into XML. It's not that scary.
[00:08:48.270] - Janice Summers
It really isn't.
[00:08:51.420] - Janice Summers
Let's take a look at how XML compares with desktop publishing to get a deeper understanding of what XML is all about, how it works, and what it does. So when we think of the typical desktop publishing, you're worried about all of these things, right? You're worried about H1, H2, H3. You're worried about the font, family, size, color, all of these attributes that have to do with formatting the content.
[00:09:24.120] - Janice Summers
You're worried about your list. Is it an ordered list, is that numbered, or is it alpha? Is it capitals, or lower case? If you've got bulleted lists? What kind of bullet are you using? What happens to the nested levels? All of these things, you're concerned about as you're also supposed to be creating content.
[00:09:46.260] - Janice Summers
You're worrying about formatting issues, page layout, you have one column, two column, formatting tables. You're doing this in your desktop because what you see is what you get. So you're a little artist formatting your page so that when you go to print, it's going to look just like it does on the screen.
[00:10:09.510] - Janice Summers
Same thing with graphics. Your graphics should come in complete. Instead, I see a lot of people in desktop publishing or in different layout tools putting in these lines. What happens if something changes. If you say, I don't know, you suddenly decide to change your H3, font, color, family, whatever, you'll have to go in because all of this is hard coded. You have to go into each one of the documents and you have to change each instance in order to have it reflect the new rule.
[00:10:47.700] - Janice Summers
This becomes so tedious, and so time consuming, and so fraught with errors that you know you're not going to be able to achieve this if you've got a large volume or even a midsize volume. You're not going to be able to achieve it successfully. And this is a challenge of hard coded. And if it's hard coded, and you're worried about formatting, and you're in a wizzy way, you're looking at how it looks here is how it's going to look when I print.
[00:11:15.310] - Janice Summers
But we know in this day and age, that's not all that can be done with your content, with the information that you're creating. And if you're thinking in those terms, then you're limiting yourself. This is where XML completely changes things for writing and for authoring and publishing content.
[00:11:36.700] - Janice Summers
Because in XML, we're separating our content from the page. We're lifting it up because the presentation that I see on the screen is only one possibility. It is not everything. So I'm not worried about the presentation. I'm looking at the content itself.
[00:12:00.640] - Janice Summers
And this is the biggest shift, I think, the biggest challenge that people have when they're coming over from desktop publishing into XML is this difference because we're not looking at things the same way. How XML works? It's like a wrapper, right? It's like the DNA wraps around and it has coded in it the message of what this is about.
[00:12:28.630] - Janice Summers
So when we're authoring an XML and structured authoring, we're assigning DNA wrapper around the components that we're writing. So we're giving it a description. That's what we're doing. In the inception, how it all came about, and hopefully this will help you understand and that bring you the tears, but it came about when we had huge data that needed to be transmitted from one side of the country to the other side of the country through this lovely tunnel called the Internet.
[00:13:07.330] - Janice Summers
So we're sending this data from one side to the next, but I want to make sure, I'm the sender, and I want to make sure that the receiving end is not met with just a series of letters, right? I want to make sure that there's a differentiate, so that's a human readable. So I want to make sure that a title looks a certain way. I want it to display a certain way. So my machine needs to tell your machine how to display it for you, the human, to read it.
[00:13:39.070] - Janice Summers
That's how XML, well, it was GML back then, that's how it came about. So, you see, it's really it's a way for one machine to communicate to another machine, or a publishing engine, or a software interface. And all it does is describe what's coming. It's heralding the information, saying, hey, I've got a title, this is the title. And treat the information that follows as a title until I tell you not to.
[00:14:11.020] - Janice Summers
And there's rules on that receiving end. It says, okay, I get it. I know what a title is and I know what to do with it, so I will display it or treat it appropriately. And the other beauty is I can treat it appropriately based on where it falls in the document, in the packing order.
[00:14:30.480] - Janice Summers
Let me see if I can give you another example. This is a page out of someone's manual. I don't know if they wrote this in DITA or whatever, I don't care. But I want to use it as an example. So as an author, as a writer, remember before what we were talking about, H1, H2, and all those formatting issues, if I'm writing and structured authoring in XML, all I care about is that I've got titles, I've got paragraphs, I have lists.
[00:15:03.930] - Janice Summers
Now perhaps I care about the list that's okay And I've got a graphic and I've got an admonition.
[00:15:10.960] - Janice Summers
So I have a warning, caution note kind of thing and it gets treated a little bit different. I don't care from an author's perspective how it gets treated on the print. I only care that I know that this is an admonition and I need to treat it as such. If it's a note, I need to say, hey, this is a note.
[00:15:33.000] - Janice Summers
Let's look at this in another angle. And this is a mock-up, so XML police out there, do not.... I just threw this together really quick in notepad. But I will tell you in doc book chapter is chapter. You can understand what the markup is. It's not scary. A title is a title. That's the tag.
[00:15:54.960] - Janice Summers
So if I were to take this and say, okay, well, if I mock this up, now I'm looking at structure, so you see the difference. I don't care what the font, family is, the color. I don't care anything about the sizing. I don't even care that it's a two column layout. All I care is about the content that's on the page.
[00:16:14.490] - Janice Summers
And then I'm saying the correct thing that I'm telling the machine that this is a title. Treat it as such. Now the machine knows the difference between a title and a chapter, a title and a section, a title and a figure, or a title and a table. And it will handle it appropriately based on a set of instructions that the writer doesn't need to worry about. That will handle itself automatically.
[00:16:44.010] - Janice Summers
And you see down here, I have a warning, right? So that's for that little admonition. And so, say, I have a certain set of rules that go with warning and how the interpretation needs to happen when you see warning do this.
[00:17:02.550] - Janice Summers
So the other thing, because I'm not concerned about layout on a page, I don't care. I'm not worried about the header. I'm not worried about the footer. I'm not worried about the page numbering. I'm not worried about that bar that's on the side or that number that's floating in that box. I don't care if you've got this set for a bound book.
[00:17:31.200] - Janice Summers
As a writer, I don't care because you might not be printing this out. Perhaps this information has to display on the internet via a web interface, or maybe it's an application. I'm not limited to the presentation medium, because my customers aren't always reading a book. They're not always looking at a PDF. So if I've got this in XML, then I can meet my users where they need to be.
[00:18:03.400] - Janice Summers
Does that makes sense, hopefully? Any questions so far? Then I'm going to move right along.
[00:18:14.760] - Speaker 2
Yeah. No questions yet.
[00:18:15.750] - Janice Summers
Yeah, that's okay. So how XML works is really simple. There's two beats to XML to make it happen. You've got sending and receiving. And from the author's perspective, when I'm going to send information, I just wrap the content in the proper description. So as long as I am saying what's coming, I'm done.
[00:18:39.450] - Janice Summers
Now on the receiving side, that's where you're during your publishing or composition, and you can have multiple types of composition. And on this side, that mechanism understands how to lay it out based on the output requirement. That's the heartbeat of XML.
[00:19:00.700] - Janice Summers
So one of the huge advantages with XML, again, because we've lifted the information off of the page, we're not locked into what you see is what you get. We're liberating all of that. Now, we've got descriptions wrapped around our content so we can meet the demands.
[00:19:20.320] - Janice Summers
What do you want to produce? Do you want to do a manual? Do you have a repair manual and you want to do some work cards? Do you have some troubleshooting guides that are quick cards, that are pullouts? Do you have an operator's guide and a handy quick reference card for them?
[00:19:39.970] - Janice Summers
You can produce all of this from the same content from one source of truth. You don't have to reauthor it again. You can use the same XML marked-up language or marked-up content in that structure, and you can reformat it based on your requirement or the profile.
[00:20:04.300] - Janice Summers
Perhaps you're creating manuals and one is an instructor manual and one is a learner manual or you're creating equipment and one is for a maintenance person and one is for an operator, where you can source information from the same single repository of truth to create information based on the profile of a person.
[00:20:29.440] - Janice Summers
You want to do online help? No problem, you can do that. How does your customer want? Well, do they want it in their native language? Doing things in XML, and we've had customers that switched over to XML just for the localization. And if you're not localizing right now, you may in the future. So it's good to know that if you're in a structured authoring, you can meet that demand in the future.
[00:20:59.040] - Janice Summers
But that's going to be a growing thing if it's in their native language. It becomes more and more critical. How are they receiving the information? Are they on a desktop? Are they on a smartphone? Again, if you're in structured authoring in your XML, it doesn't care what the output devices because you can handle it.
[00:21:25.950] - Janice Summers
It will right size and correct itself for whatever device it needs to go on. That's what's handled on the receiving side, on that composition side. You're not locked into what you see is what you get, which is what you're locked into in desktop publishing.
[00:21:45.870] - Janice Summers
If you're creating print, which print will not die. Print is not dead. It will not die until computers stop breaking or until Wi-Fi stops going down. So print is always going to be there. You can produce to print as well, seamlessly and effortlessly.
[00:22:07.440] - Janice Summers
Do you need to meet an audience that wants to self-select and navigate their way through your content easily and efficiently? Then you should be an XML. And if you want to do a search online, search, web, Google search, then you need to be an example. Perhaps it might be a little sci-fi for you right now, but if you want to go into augmented reality, which is if you're in heavy equipment, if you're an aircraft, you should be looking to this for your future.
[00:22:42.600] - Janice Summers
You're not going to be able to get there in desktop. In XML, You will. So you want to future proof your content? XML is definitely the way you want to go, because a lot of times, if you're locked into a desktop application, it only understands its a desktop application. But in XML, you saw what I did, that little sample, it's human readable. And any XML aware tool can open it. It's not locked into a certain vendor tool as long as you're into XML.
[00:23:24.330] - Janice Summers
So now we're down to it and the question is, should you do Xml? Well, it depends. I can tell you the reasons why.transcript
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About the Arbortext User Group
Single-Sourcing Solutions coordinates logistics and donates both financial and administrative support to help Arbortext Users connect through meetings and social media channels. The Arbortext User Group has a blog and a youtube channel.