Welcome to the ACM SIGDOC Committee on Structured Authoring and Content Management

This newly-formed committee seeks to promote collaboration between academic programs in technical communication (professors, students) and industry professionals (writers, architects, trainers, managers). Technical communication is a big field, so we’ve narrowed the scope of the committee to structured authoring and management of that structured content. See Definition of structured content.

Call for participation

We’d like to give people interested in participating some feel for proposed activities and deliverables. The following roadmap is preliminary and will change as people join the committee and shape its mission. That said, we’ve got to start somewhere.

Semester Committee activity Contact
Spring 2023
  • Promote the committee at academic and industry conferences.
  • Recruit committee steering committee members from academia and industry.
  • Recruit committee members.
  • Organize monthly planning meetings.
  • Refine committee goals and deliverables.
  • Prototype and review deliverables.
  • Report status to ACM SIGDOC Board.
Fall 2023
  • Recruit a small number of university pilot programs.
  • Ramp up the directory of guest lecturers.
  • Author and circulate technical “primers”.
  • Debrief and adjust for the spring.
  • Report out to ACM SIGDOC members and Board.
  • Offer technical workshops to ACM SIGDOC members.
  • Develop editorial and maintenance policies.
Spring 2024
  • Scale out the number of engagements with university programs.
  • Scale out the directory of guest lecturers.
  • Scale out the library of technical “primers”.
  • Set up “job bank” and career development programs.

Proposed (initial) committee activities and deliverables

Industry professionals who have an interest or background in teaching technical communication are a relatively untapped resource toward the development of resources for academia. The primary deliverable for this committee is somewhat intangible, a collaborative framework within which professors, students, technical writers, architects, and managers can develop and share resources:

  • Directory of guest lecturers: Within their individual departments or companies, industry professionals speak routinely about their subjects of expertise. Opportunities to share that expertise outside their companies or outside the context of annual professional conferences are rare. This directory consists of a table of industry professionals who would be willing to ZOOM into a classroom and share what they know about particular subjects. It’s a talent bank that professors can consult as they develop week-to-week syllabi. Furthermore, exposing technical communication students to relevant and career-applicable knowledge could open many doors.
  • Library of technical “primers”: After you’ve done the tenth, in-house slide presentation on XML, chunking, reuse, SVG, or automated builds, it would not take long to extract company-specific content and work up a technical “primer” on your subject. Yes – many of these topics are posted to Wikipedia, but few of them capture the experience of practitioners. We suspect that there could be high correlation between subjects identified in the directory of guest lecturers and subjects suitable for tech “primers”.
    • Introduction to Structured Information (complete, not peer reviewed, not yet converted to WordPress)
    • Introduction to Semantic Markup (incomplete, not peer reviewed, not converted yet to WordPress)
    • What is a Component Content Management System?
    • How do AI/ML systems process structured information?
    • How do topic typing and topic-based authoring work?
    • How do I integrate unstructured information with structured information?
    • What authoring tools do I use to produce structured information?
  • Sample technical content: One of the biggest challenges for new technical communicators is gaining experience with the large documentation sets and product interfaces prevalent at the large companies hiring entry-level writers. To expose students to larges-scale doc sets before they interview or graduate, industry professionals can genericize out-dated or open-source documentation sets and make them available to curriculum planners. The OASIS DITA Adoption Technical Committee, for example, assembled an extensive library of ready-to-test DITA documentation sets. There are many other samples out there.
  • Professional development get-togethers: The current field of technical communication is vibrant with exciting new technologies, methodologies, and collaboration touch points. This committee could be instrumental in organizing ZOOM and/or in-person meetings between industry professionals and students. These sorts of connections have a positive impact on job searches, interviewing, and career-long friendships.

Committee steering committee

The committee is recruiting ACM SIGDOC members who would be willing to serve on the steering committee. A mix of academic and industry people would be ideal. The minimum commitments for a steering committee member would involve:

  • Attendance at a monthly steering committee ZOOM meeting.
  • Participation in email-based discussions (especially when we are getting this off the ground).

Please contact Stan Doherty or Dan Richards.

Current steering committee members:

    • Rebekka Andersen, Ph.D.
      • Associate Professor – University of California, Davis

    • Stan Doherty, Ph.D.
      • Senior Documentation Manager, Google LLC
      • Chair, ACM SIGDOC Committee on Structured Authoring
      • Member, OASIS DITA Technical Committee

    • Carlos Evia, Ph.D.
      • Professor of Communication, Virginia Tech

    • Dan Richards, Ph.D.
      • Associate Professor of English, Old Dominion University
      • Chair, ACM SIGDOC
    • Keith Schengili-Roberts
      • Senior Manager, Technical Documentation, AMD Data Center GPU and Accelerated Processing
      • Member, OASIS DITA Technical Committee
      • Lecturer on Information Architecture at the University of Toronto

What is Structured Authoring?

Structured authoring consists of a collection of standards, technologies, and best practices prevalent in the field of technical communication. “Structure” in this context implies that individual documents comply with a specific set of software-enforced rules governing allowable elements, attributes, and relationships. There can be many different sets of rules available to writers, but they declare only one rule set for each document. Software applications such as parsers then validate the individual document against its declared rule set. The enforced level of consistency allows teams to use more granular building blocks (topics, library blocks), to assemble them predictably via maps, and to automate workflows for authoring, content management, and publication.Frequently implemented with structured authoring projects are the following best practices for content development:

  • Semantic markup: The names of elements and attributes describe their content, but not their styling or presentation.
  • Information typing: Content of the same type — task, concept, reference — is implemented in specific topic types.
  • Minimalism: Information that is not directly relevant to the focus of the topic is removed or relocated.
  • Topic-based authoring: Content is developed in small-ish modules. Each module (topic) reflects a specific information type, validates against a particular rule set (DTD), and is referenced by maps to construction publications.
  • Metadata-based navigation and assembly: Processors read structured metadata in sources to generate navigation links and/or content assemblies dynamically.
  • Content reuse by reference: Content in maps, topics, blocks, or phrases can be reused by reference in multiple contexts.
  • Source-side analytics: Teams can query structured sources to generate reports on content freshness, reuse, and relationships.