Structured Writing Part 2: Where to Apply It and Why It Matters

January 23, 2017 Daniela Bustamante

In part one of my series on structured writing, I explained the concept of structured writing at a high level. Structured writing is an approach to writing that focuses on the structure of content. By applying rules to the content, you impose structure to increase consistency.

In this blog post, I’ll talk about where structured writing might make sense to apply in a business and describe the benefits of it.

Where to Apply Structured Writing

If you generate large volumes of content with many similarities, you have a good scenario for applying structured writing. For example, you may have several instruction manuals that have a lot of the same procedures for operating or troubleshooting a product. Even if variations exist between some of the products, structured writing can handle that. If you generate a lot of content, chances are you have multiple writers working on the content, and they may not be located in the same office or country. Without some structure to the writing, you may end up with a lot of variation, which can cause writing, reviewing and translating costs to increase.

Perhaps you create similar types of information frequently, such as product descriptions for brochures, which is another good scenario for structured writing. You can define how you want these types of content to be laid out, such as introducing the product first followed by a series of bullets with the product benefits. You’ll also define the styles for the content such as font types and colors. By predefining the structure and the style in the form of a template, your writers don’t need to think about these two big parts of writing – they can just focus on the content itself.

Publishing is another aspect of content development. Most likely you’re not writing content for only one output anymore. For example, you write an instruction for a product fix, which is published on your website. It’s then incorporated into customer training and promoted in a blog post, an email marketing campaign and a Facebook page. Adobe FrameMaker 2015 lets you publish to multiple outputs such as PDF, HTML5, WebHelp and more, making it even easier for technical writers to reuse content. Structured content provides consistency as you write once and reuse multiple times.

Let’s Look at an Example

Let’s say you have three variations of a product: low-tier (Product A), mid-tier (Product B) and high-end (Product C). These products are meant for different audiences, with the low-tier product being the least functional and the high-end product being the most functional. Despite their differences, the features they have in common all work the same way.

Using our example from my previous blog post, let’s say the products all have instructions on how to verify package contents. It makes sense to have identical instructions, but if you’re working in an unstructured environment with multiple writers, you may end up having three different variations of the same content like this:

Product A

Product B

Product C

How to Verify Package Contents

Verify the package contents before you begin.

Open the box.

Find the packing slip.

Compare the contents to the packing slip.

Verify the package contents before you begin.

Open the box.

Find the packing slip.

Compare the contents to the packing slip.

 

How to Verify Package Contents

Open the box and find the packing slip. Make sure the contents match up.

You can see that although the three instructions are similar, they aren’t the same:

  • Product A includes an introductory sentence after the heading.
  • Product B is missing a heading.
  • Product C’s instructions are in a paragraph form instead of numbered steps.

With structured writing, you can create rules to define the parts of the topic, such as:

  • Every instruction needs a header.
  • Steps must be in a numbered format.

Benefits

By putting some structure and guidelines in place, you can make sure that these instructions are identical. The differences may seem small, but the expense of producing content three different ways in many places adds up. The benefits of structured content include:

Reduced writing costs – write the content one time.

Reduced reviewer costs – review the content one time.

Reduced translation costs – although the wording is similar, it’s different, and you’ll be charged for the variations. If you translate into several languages, the cost adds up.

A better customer experience because of consistent content.

Get Started with a Content Audit

Start with a content audit to see if it makes sense to switch to a structured authoring approach. My colleague explains how to do this in Content Audits Part 2: Technical Content Audits.

Conclusion

If you have a lot of similar content that’s reused or you create similar types of information frequently, you might want to consider structured writing as it has some worthwhile benefits. My next blog post will cover the necessary tools of structured writing.

Further Resources on Translation Services

You may gain further insight into content strategy, content localization, translations and related topics by reviewing the previous blogs written by GPI: 

GPI's content strategists and localization specialists can help analyze your website and provide guidance on any localization and global digital marketing requirements. GPI also offers Global Search Engine Marketing Services and many other Translation Services.

Please feel free to contact GPI at info@globalizationpartners.com with any questions about our language and technology services. Also let us know if you have any interesting blog topics you would like us to cover in our future blogs. You may request a complimentary Translation Quote for your projects as well.

About the Author

Daniela Bustamante

Director: Global Production Services. Daniela has over 16 years' experience in the translation, localization and language instruction professions. She holds a degree in Sworn, Literary, Technical, and Scientific Translation from the Instituto Nacional de Enseñanza Superior Olga Cossettini in Rosario, Argentina. Starting her career as a translator for English-Spanish/Spanish-English in 1990 over the years she has worked for several Localization Agencies as a translator, assistant project manager and senior project manager. She has completed a wide range of professional certifications in document and website localization with emphasis on translation, budgeting, quality control and project management including The Localization Institute’s Triple Certification in Localization Project Management (Localization Institute Chico, CA, USA).

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Structured Writing Part 1: What is Structured Writing?
Structured Writing Part 1: What is Structured Writing?

Structured writing is an approach to creating content that fits into a larger content strategy.

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