Like a CMS, But Not Really
I have written previously about Content Management Systems (CMS) and Component Content Management Systems (CCMS). This article is intended as a continuance of these articles. Click here to see the full listing covering this technology.
A CCMS incorporates most of the features of a typical CMS, but then uses even more features specific to the industry it serves. In recent years we have seen the rising use of CCMSs for technical writers such as myself. Here you can learn a few more things about CCMS technology.
An attribute peculiar to a CCMS is its ability to support structured authoring.
According to our friends at Wikipedia, the term structured authoring was originated by Robert E. Horn and became a central part of the Information Mapping method of analyzing, organizing, and displaying knowledge in print and in new online forms of presentation for text and graphics. Single documents can be broken down into structural components called information blocks. In order to render documents into these blocks of information (sometimes also called chunks), they need to be arranged in a consistently hierarchical structure. Thus you have structured authoring.
Assuming you are using editing software that supports it, an example of structured authoring would be the consistent labeling and use of a block of text in a document that is used as the title of a paragraph. This paragraph element is uniquely labeled with metadata as a “TITLE_PARA” or similar title. The title could then be followed by an actual paragraph and be labeled “PARA”. Later on, when you wish to invoke another paragraph title again, you merely insert another element called TITLE_PARA and fill in the value for that paragraph title.
Other elements can be created and you can fill them with blocks of information. If you insert several PARA elements, they all constitute individual blocks of information.
Structured Authoring Implies Structure
Structured authoring implies structure of some sort, thus elements may only be arranged in relation to each other according to the hierarchy you designate. For example, a PARA_TITLE can be designated to precede a paragraph (PARA)
Blocks of information in an information structure need not be limited blocked
Content authors such as technical writers find themselves writing content which may be used over and over again. For example, if a technical writer publishes one user manual for a series of 20 products, for each manual written, items such as the company cover page, copyright notification page, legal notification page, and other such boilerplate content can be automatically reused and updated.
Because the boilerplate content is pulled from a separate single document that contains the original boilerplate content, only one file needs to be updated. Whenever the boilerplate chunk of information is updated, on a CCMS that updated content gets populated to all of the documents that use that chunk. A component content management system supports the reuse of content such as these examples. By automatically inserting boilerplate content such as these, the technical writer is free to concentrate on creating content unique to the product.