Structured authoring real-world example

This is the second in a series of posts on structured authoring.

In the previous post, no rx I discussed the definition and benefits of structured authoring.

A quick reminder: structured authoring is means separating content from its format, site and designing your document in a way that you
can easily add/change format to any particular part of your document. Think of it as filling out a form.

I had planned to start talking about tools right away, generic but I thought it would be important to first give a concrete example of a structured document. Regardless of the tool you choose to use, the process of creating a structured document is the same. Before you even open a software tool, you have to sit down and determine what content you want in your document, and figure out what structure that document has, either inherently, or can be applied to it.

Examples are best here, so let’s take a specific type of document and look at the inherent structure that exists. We’ll use a resume as an example.

Regardless of how you format a resume, it is comprised of a couple of things: your name, your contact information, and various sections that pertain to your jobs, education or experience.

With a structured writing approach, we will call each of these items “elements.” Some elements, such as name, only appear once in a particular document. Other elements, such as section will occur multiple times.

Here are some basic rules about a resume:

  • There is a name element. It can occur only once.
  • There is a contact information element. It can occur only once.
  • There is a section element. It can occur as many times as needed.
  • Sections are comprised of what we’ll call “experience” elements. An “experience” in the Education section would be a particular school you attended. An “experience” in the Work Experience section would be a particular job. Each section may include multiple experience elements.
  • An experience element is comprised of a title, location, start date, end date, and a description.

Here is an example:

Name: Barrie Jones
Contact Information: 456 Anystreet, Moscow, Idaho, 208-800-9000

Section: Work Experience
 Experience: ACME Corporation
  Title: Summer Intern
  Location: London
  Start Date: June 2008
  End Date: August 2008
  Description: Office secretarial work including preparing and distributing meeting minutes, filing, and document editing.
 Experience: ABC Publishing
  Title: Editor
  Location: New York
  Start Date: September 2007
  End Date: June 2008
  Description: Edited manuscripts of to-be published books.

Section: Education
  Experience: Johnsontown University
  Title: BA in English
  Location: Johnsontown, Idaho
  Start Date: September 2002
  End Date: May 2007
  Description: Graduated summa cum laude; National Honor Society member; Dean's list for four semesters running

Now you’d probably never turn in a resume to a potential employer in the format above, but by doing this exercise, you’ve been able to identify the content in your resume that is similar to all other items in your resume. You’ve separated the structure from the formatting.

You should note that I used generic terms for all my elements. I used the general “section” in place of “education” or “work history”. I used the general “experience” instead of “school name” or “employer name”. I did this intentionally, because it allows me to re-use the section in a different way, while applying the formatting to only one element. When it comes time to format, all my educational institutions will match my jobs, in terms of formatting, which will give me a nice, balanced resume.

Once you have a structure in mind, you can figure out what other sections you want in your resume, and you can see if you need additional elements to represent that content, or if the elements you’ve defined are sufficient.

For your resume, you may want to have a section on software tools. This section might fit in this structure:

 Section: Software Tools
  Item: MS Office 2007
  Item: OpenOffice
  Item: MadCap Flare
  Item: Adobe Photoshop CS2
  Item: Adobe InDesign CS2

 Section: Awards
  Item: Rhodes Scholar 2002
  Item: Eagle Scout 2000

 Section: References
  Reference: George Bush
   Reference Address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC
   Reference e-mail:
  Reference: Albert Einstein
   Reference Address: 1234 Big Bang Ave, Cosmos
   Reference e-mail:

Notice again how I used the generic element “item” instead of “tool” or “award”. Again, that allows me to reuse the element and apply the same styling.

I have pieces of my References section, however, that don’t match any other elements in the document, thus they get their own names so I can style them separately.

You should also note that when I pick an element name, I’m picking a description of the element, as opposed to the eventual formatting I want to place on the element. In essence, I’m describing the structure of the content. Remember, we are trying to separate the content from the formatting.

Once you’ve got a good structure in place, you are ready to pick an authoring tool. Future posts in this series will discuss various authoring tools, and show you how to apply formatting to the content using the features in that particular tool.

We’ll keep referring back to this resume example to show you how you can format this data using different authoring tools. Stay tuned!

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