What To Look For In An XML Authoring Tool

In modern publishing environments, the production of technical documents and books heavily relies on eXtensible Markup Language (XML). That’s because XML brings consistency and versatility to content, enabling it to be formatted and published to multiple channels at once.

Many writers find working with XML far from ideal, largely because it merges markup tags with content. On the whole, writers are much more comfortable working with familiar tools like Microsoft Word. So in pursuit of a more user-friendly writing experience, technical writers use XML authoring tools.

With so many editing tools on the market, choosing the right one can be tricky. So here’s our guide to what to look for in an XML authoring tool.

What is an XML authoring tool?

An XML authoring tool is a software application designed for the creation, editing, and management of XML documents. XML is widely used for data exchange between different systems, and document storage.

XML defines the rules for encoding documents in a format that’s both readable by humans and computers. Authoring tools for XML provide a user-friendly interface for users to create and manipulate XML documents, eliminating the need to manually write the markup language syntax.

These authoring tools offer a range of helpful features, including validation, which checks the XML document against a specific schema to ensure it conforms with the defined structure and rules of the Document Type Definition (DTD) or XSD (XML Schema Definition).

Popular XML tools include Xeditor, FontoXML, Oxygen XML Editor, XMLSpy, and Notepad++. These editors support individuals working with XML – developers, content creators, and system administrators – by simplifying the process of creating and managing XML documents.

Why use XML authoring tools for documents?

As many technical writers and publishers will tell you, XML has many benefits but working with it is a hassle they could do without. Here’s how the right XML authoring tool can help:

  • Seamless content management: Integrated with a content management system (CMS) or publishing platform like PublishOne, XML authoring tools enable version control, document collaboration, and workflow management. This integration streamlines the documentation process and ensures that writers are always working with the latest versions of documents.
  • Separation of content and presentation: XML editors clearly separate content from presentation. That means writers can focus on creating content without being concerned about the final appearance. Stylesheets and transformations can be applied later to produce output in different formats while maintaining the same written content.
  • Multichannel publishing: XML supports multichannel publishing, allowing technical documents to be published in various formats suitable for different devices and platforms. This flexibility is vital to keep up with the ever-increasing ways in which people consume content.
  • Structured content: Authoring tools enable technical writers to create structured content using XML markup. With this structure, information can be organized into hierarchies, making it easier to apply consistent formatting to complex documents.
  • Reusable content: Most XML tools allow users to make modular and reusable content. Writers can define elements and reuse them across multiple documents. This creates consistency and reduces the risk of errors. That’s because changes made to a reusable element automatically update everywhere they appear.
  • Integration with translation tools: XML is perfect for localization and translation efforts. Some XML authoring tools support industry standards for translation, making it easier to integrate translation services and manage multilingual documentation projects.
  • Schema validation: XML authoring tools provide schema validation, ensuring that documents adhere to predefined rules and structures. This helps catch errors early in the writing process, ensuring documents meet specified standards.
  • Automation and scripting: Some XML authoring software can be set up to run automated scripts. This automation helps speed up repetitive tasks, ensure document standards, and enhance the overall efficiency of publishing workflows.
  • Support for collaboration: Tools for XML authoring sometimes have a collaborative dimension, allowing multiple authors to work on the same document simultaneously. This is especially beneficial for large technical writing teams or distributed authoring environments.
  • User-friendliness: Popular XML authoring tools and publishing platforms – such as PublishOne – cater to the needs of technical writers, and provide a user-friendly environment for creating, editing, and managing XML-based technical documentation.

Which XML authoring tool is right for you?

Choosing the right XML authoring tool depends on your business needs. Most XML editors have similar functionality, so choosing the right one is often a matter of personal taste. To help you decide, here are 12 features to consider:

  1. Ease of use: Look for a tool with an intuitive and user-friendly interface, especially if you or your team are new to XML authoring. Check for features like auto-completion, syntax highlighting, and drag-and-drop functionality to enhance usability.
  2. Integration with a CMS: If you work with a content management system, choose a tool that integrates seamlessly with your CMS. This integration can streamline version control, collaboration, and workflow management.
  3. Multichannel publishing: Consider whether the XML tool supports multichannel publishing, allowing you to publish content in various formats suitable for different platforms and devices. Look for features that facilitate content reuse, such as the ability to define and manage document templates and elements.
  4. Support for translation and localization: If your documentation requires translation, choose a tool that supports industry standards for localization. Look for features that make working with translations and multilingual content easier.
  5. Compatibility with your tech stack: Assess whether the XML authoring tool integrates well with your existing tech stack, including version control systems, project management tools, and third-party plugins.
  6. Customization options: Assess the tool’s customization options. Being able to tailor the environment to suit your specific needs can enhance the user experience (UX) and its effectiveness.
  7. Validation support: Make sure it supports validation against XML schemas or DTDs. This helps to maintain document integrity and editorial standards.
  8. Automation and scripting capabilities: Check if the tool supports automation, which can help streamline repetitive tasks, ensure document standards, and enhance overall efficiency.
  9. Support and documentation: Ensure that the vendor provides clear support and documentation. Look for user guides, tutorials, and an active and responsive support community that can quickly help you overcome any challenges.
  10. Collaboration features: Consider the collaboration features of the tool, especially if you work in a team. Look for version tracking, commenting, and simultaneous editing capabilities.
  11. Cost and licensing: Explore the cost and licensing models available. Some tools may offer free or open-source versions with limited features, while others may require a subscription or a one-time purchase.
  12. Vendor reputation: Research the reputation and track record of the software vendor. Choosing an established vendor with a long history of providing updates, support, and improvements mitigates the risk of business-critical software failures.

XML authoring inside PublishOne

PublishOne is a popular publishing platform that caters to writers and publishers who need XML authoring. It’s a modern, streamlined, and user-friendly environment that makes it easy to create, manage, and publish technical documentation for sectors including legal and education. Whilst some publishing systems require the use of a specific XML editor, PublishOne can easily integrate with multiple XML editors – including its own – plus popular writing tools like Microsoft Word.

MS Word is a powerful text editor that allows users to save documents as XML. But there is a downside. The resulting XML structure is not as optimized or modular as a document created in a dedicated XML authoring tool. Additionally, when saving a Word document as XML, the resulting file loses the formatting and layout.

A specialist XML editor might seem like the best choice if you have specific schema requirements or need to work with complex structured content. But that’s not the last word for technical writers and Microsoft Word.

Within the PublishOne environment, collaborators can work on the same document in different ways. That means authors can create content in Word, and publishers can format it using an XML editor.

It’s even possible to bring XML web editors inside PublishOne for handling complex XML structures that need constant validation. In fact, you can use multiple editors in one workflow – as showcased in this Integration Friday video. So everyone’s happy.

PublishOne is the ideal solution for technical writers who prefer Word, and multichannel publishers who need content in XML. To discover what PublishOne can do for publishing workflows, speak to one of our friendly team. Contact us