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On the first system we showed them, we told
them to explore it then took the vendors out
for a tour. While we were gone, a writer
used his skill of abstraction to format a
document. He typed
It was a bad day after that.
We got a different vendor with a more
advanced (not DOS based) system. It required
us to create a DTD, parameterize the stylesheets,
and that compiled a menu system which drove the writers
step by step through the tasks of writing Navy
They hated it.
o The group leader couldn't type.
o The senior writer had a crush on a girl
in the typing pool. We were obsoleting her job.
o They all had to put up with the smart mouth
whose job it was to write the DTDs.
o The workstations functioned as room heaters.
o The software didn't work right when it came
to importing the schematics.
o The compiled output was in the form of raster
files and the byte order was reversed from that
of the destination display machine.
Sociology and technology conspired to make the
smart mouth a very unpopular guy. But that's the gig.
We found another position for the steno gal, improved
the HVAC, bought a different schematic package, and
beat the hell out of the vendor until they redid the
raster export utility. The group leader never learned
to type, but that freed up a machine so we got to hire
another writer. The smart mouth continued to be
unpopular, but the bosses' secretary took a liking to him.
It went that way for six months. Then a crunch came and
we were able to meet the bosses' demands without
losing our weekend. They became fans. Later when
the Navy brass showed up and personally congratulated
them for pulling the system together, they became
evangelists. What was most notable about the Mentor
Context SGML system was that once the initial setup
was done, the writers, all of whom except one had
zero familiarity with Apollo workstations and code,
were able to improve the system incrementally themselves
once they learned the system.
As they did that, they took a lot of pride in it.
o Any system that enables the writer to improve his
or her own lot interests them if they can master
it on the job and without embarassment.
o Any system that will get them out of the office
by 5PM on Fridays and keep them from working on
the weekends will interest the writers.
o Any system that will catch their mistakes before
their boss, their best friend or their worst
enemy finds them will interest the writers.
o Any system that will keep them productive and
up their throughput without the need to hire
more writers will interest their boss.
o Any system that will reduce the number of writers
needed to keep the throughput consistent will
interest their boss. It will not interest the
o Any system that comes with a smart mouth should
also come with a secretary. That makes it interesting.
A writer sees the system as a means to get the
job done on time. The boss sees the system as
a means to get more work done. These are not
the same point of view and you will have to
steer between them.
From: Doug Rudder [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
I would be greatly interesting in receiving input/comments/opinions from
other experiences with introducing writers/editors to a structured markup
environment. All of my experience (9+ years) is with the same company,
working in a number of closely related problem spaces; other perspectives
would be useful to me.
If anyone is interested (entirely up to you), my original XML 2001
presentation is available on the precedings CD or online at:
http://www.idealliance.org/xmlfiles/issue37/techwriting.asp. It provides
perspective related to XML in reference publishing and discussion related to
the issues in this thread. Any feedback would be welcome.
Douglas Rudder email@example.com
"At least in theory, XML is supposed to provide a middle ground
between human and machine-readable." -- Simon St. Laurent
"Schema designers, authors, and those developing the software
that processes the data all have to work together to find
the appropriate tradeoffs." -- Mike Champion
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