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Reducing Translation Costs Part 1 of 3: What Is Authoring in XML?

Authoring in XML is a way of writing that focuses on the structure of the content and not the formatting. Using XML is beneficial when you have a lot of content that you can reuse across multiple documents or outputs since you write it once and reuse it. It’s often used to develop technical content like instruction manuals, where the content is the same across the product documentation.

XML is a huge topic, so we’ll address just a fraction of it in a 3-part series of blog posts, primarily about how it can reduce your translation costs. In this blog post, we’ll examine what XML is, where it can be applied, its advantages and what tools are required.

What is XML?

XML is a structured markup language, like HTML, that uses tags to define elements within a set of content. Using XML to create content, rather than using an authoring program like Microsoft Word, really forces you to think about the structure and type of content that you need to develop. You don’t just sit down and start typing; you have to think about what type of content you’re writing about by first defining an element and then you can start writing. For example, let’s say you’re writing a new chapter for an instruction manual. If you’re using Microsoft Word or another authoring program, you’d just go to the start of that chapter and type in the title. If you’re authoring in XML though, you’d add the element first and then the title. It might look like this: <chaptertitle>This is the Title</chaptertitle>

All content needs to have an associated element.

Using XML to author content frees you up from having to think about formatting because there’s no formatting with XML. It allows you to focus on the content without having to adjust formatting such as applying styles or tweaking tables. A style sheet, or XSLT, defines the formatting for each element and output type. Standard XML authoring tools come with style sheets, but you can modify them to fit your company’s style guidelines. For example, if you use fonts other than what’s defined in the style sheet, you can change the stylesheet to define what fonts get used where.

Use Cases for Authoring in XML

You can author all types of content in XML, from a simple letter in Microsoft Word to a 300-page technical instruction manual in Adobe FrameMaker. However, we’ve seen that it makes a lot of sense in particular for these scenarios:

  1. A high percentage of content reuse – if you have a lot of content that’s the same or similar across documentation sets, you write that topic once and then reuse it multiple times. For example, you may have a troubleshooting procedure that’s the same across several products. You can write that procedure once and then reuse it across all the documents. Other types of content that may be reused could be product descriptions, product features, operating instructions, return information and much more.
  2. Technical document translation – if you translate your content or plan to start translating it, authoring in XML can have significant cost savings, which we’ll explain briefly here and in future blog posts.
  3. Publishing to multiple outputs – you may be publishing your content to more than one output, such as PDF, HTML5 or eBooks. With XML, you can publish content in many different formats without having to recreate the content in different software programs.

What Are the Advantages of Authoring in XML?

Although it’s not an easy process to convert to authoring in XML, there are several advantages:

  1. Reduced authoring costs – write the content once and reuse it multiple times, plus there’s no formatting time which is often very time-consuming.
  2. Reduced reviewer costs – review the content one time.
  3. Reduced translation costs – these costs can often be significantly reduced because you translate the content once and reuse it multiple times. We’ll explain how this works in our next two blog posts in the series.
  4. Reduced time to market – when you start building a library of XML content, it’s faster to put documents together. Plus, you send less content to translation, which reduces the time to market for global documents.
  5. Increased content consistency – it makes for a better customer experience.

What Tools Do You Need?

You need the following tools to author content in XML:

  1. XML editor – this is the tool that you use to author and edit XML content. Some examples are oXygen XML Editor, XMetaL or Arbortext Editor.
  2. Style sheet – this defines the formatting for each element and output type. It comes with a standard XML editing tool.
  3. Information architecture – you need an architecture to structure and define your content. DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) is the most commonly-used standard for technical writing, and XML authoring tools come with DITA support.
  4. DTD (Document Type Definition) – this is a set of markup declarations that validates the structure of the elements. Standard XML authoring tools come with a DTD, which you can modify as needed.
  5. Component Content Management System (CCMS) – a document created in XML may contain tens or hundreds of smaller XML files and these files should be managed in a CCMS.


Authoring in XML can be very beneficial in several scenarios, especially in the world of technical content. Look for my next blog post on how authoring in XML can significantly reduce translation costs.

As a technical translation company, we’re here to help you with your technical translation needs. Please contact our nearest office for more information or to request a quote. We’re here to help.

Shmuel Duan

For many years I was on the clients’ side, gaining years of experience in the world of software development. Back then localization wasn’t always on my mind... Here at Net-Translators, as the Director of Technology, I discovered the world of localization and found out that this is one of the most interesting phases in the life of a product! With the knowledge of developing software and websites I’m eager to find ways to improve the process and support our clients worldwide by better understanding their needs, making their process smoother, more efficient and finding the best ways to deliver. Being our clients’ partners, I see the added value in helping them, even before we start the localization process, advising them which tools/systems to work with, the best practices and how to make their product "localization friendly". Together with a great team that loves the challenge our clients bring, we enjoy the process of finding the best solutions for each one, tracking emerging technologies and trends, industry standards, and searching for better ways to localize it. In this blog I’ll share tips and tricks on how to do it better! Stay tuned ;-)

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