SDL Survey Reveals Industry Rise in Adoption of Structured Authoring

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February 2010

SDL Survey Reveals Industry Rise in Adoption of Structured Authoring

CIDMIconNewsletterSophie Hurst, SDL

SDL recently conducted the 2009 edition of its annual Global Authoring Survey, which has been running since 2006 with the goal of exploring the trends in authoring and technical documentation across the globe. The particular focus is on the tools used for authoring, the dynamics of authoring teams and departments, as well as the trends and shifts in XML and DITA. So, what are the trends that are shaping the industry this year?

We can make several key conclusions when comparing the trends shown by the previous surveys as well as comparing the 2009 results by region. These are:

  • Global organizations have increased their adoption of structured authoring strategies
  • The location of authoring teams in global organizations has become more centralized since 2008
  • One quarter of all respondents plan to move to DITA as an authoring strategy, with US organizations more likely to adopt DITA authoring than those in Europe
  • Adobe FrameMaker has seen significant growth as the authoring tool of choice for those surveyed

XML Adoption Continues to Grow

This year’s survey sees more authors adopting XML authoring strategies and more content moving into XML (see figure 1). Nearly 7 percent of respondents indicated that all of their content was in XML, whereas in 2007 only 3 percent indicated as much. But how does the adoption of XML vary by region?

graph_SDL_Global Authoring survery sept 2009_en-02

Figure 1: XML Adoption

It is clear that the US is still ahead in terms of its adoption of XML authoring (US 35 percent, Europe 20 percent, rest of the world 25 percent). Respondents from the US were members of larger teams and therefore are more likely to be authoring high volumes of content. By adopting structured authoring with XML, they are able to streamline content production as well as improve consistency. We have seen this trend with previous surveys; with the US adopting first, it is likely that Europe and the rest of the world will follow suit, and we will see further increases in future surveys.

DITA Enters the Scene

This year’s survey was the first to investigate whether organizations were planning to move on to DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture)1 (see Figure 2). The majority (57 percent) of respondents did not have plans to move to DITA, 18 percent are not aware of what DITA is, but 25 percent are planning to move to it. This is the first year that SDL has included questions about respondents’ use of the DITA standard in its survey; awareness among technical authors is high, suggesting more companies are now embracing DITA as an authoring standard.

graph_SDL_Global Authoring survery sept 2009_en-04

Figure 2: The Move to DITA

However, the regional picture is similar to the XML trends, with more US respondents looking at adopting DITA. Some 39 percent of US respondents indicated that they were planning to move to DITA, compared to 16 percent of Europeans and 25 percent for the rest of the world. With a quarter of all respondents planning to move to DITA, it will be interesting to see how future surveys show the rise in adoption of this important authoring standard.

Centralization of Authoring Teams

In previous surveys, the results have signified a trend towards the geographic dispersal of authoring teams (as shown in Figure 3), which indicated a possible trend towards off-shoring. However, the 2009 results convey a shift back towards the centralization of authoring teams in global organizations.

graph_SDL_Global Authoring survery sept 2009_en-03

Figure 3: Centralization of Authoring Teams

Why do we see an 8 percent increase of authoring teams residing in one central location in 2009 compared with a drop of 21 percent in 2008? Initially, we can consider the effect of the recent economic conditions as a factor that may have resulted in global organizations having to cut back on local authoring teams, focusing on retaining a more centralized team operating out of an organization’s head office.

This year, we also see a decrease in the number of respondents who are members of authoring teams of 30-100, but an increase in smaller teams of 0-20. Such results could be a further indicator of the economic conditions bringing widespread redundancies to authoring teams.

The global economic crisis is clearly an influence, but other results from this year’s survey also help clarify this shift towards centralization (outlined in Figure 4). When asked how important consistency was for those surveyed, previous results had shown an increasing concern for consistency. However, the 2009 results show that authors are now less concerned. It is possible that as a result of this shift towards centralization, consistency in authoring is more achievable. Furthermore, it is possible that a centralized team is better equipped to share best practices, strategies, and processes that help them achieve consistency in authoring. Consistency is more challenging for geographically dispersed teams.

graph_SDL_Global Authoring survery sept 2009_en-01

Figure 4: Importance of Consistency

However, despite this year’s decreasing concern for consistency in authoring, it is still clear that, overall, consistency remains high on the agenda for authors and therefore is an essential quality of successful technical authoring.

Authoring for a Global Audience

This survey was carried out among businesses around the world, but it is also focused on what we call “global authoring,” which is essentially authoring with a global audience in mind. Global authoring prepares content for and lends itself better to translation; by authoring clearly and concisely you can communicate better to non-native speakers on a global scale.

We asked respondents to indicate if they write for a global audience, whether translated or not. Interestingly, the translation of technical documentation is on the increase as organizations are looking to reach more customers around the world. The survey showed that 45 percent of authors have their technical documentation translated. Technical documentation is also being consumed by a global audience, with 33 percent saying that they write for a global audience, but their work is not translated, compared with 27 percent in 2008. Both sets of results point to authoring and technical documentation being a key part of any organization’s strategy for reaching global customers.

Authoring Tools of Choice

Since its inception, the SDL Global Authoring Survey has looked at the usage and popularity of the leading authoring tools in the industry (shown in Figure 5). In response to the question “Which authoring tool do you use for the majority of your writing?”, this year’s results showed Adobe FrameMaker continuing to gain market share amongst those surveyed. Since 2006, FrameMaker has seen a 22 percent increase; now 50 percent of the authors surveyed use it as their primary tool—only 1 percent behind Microsoft Word as the leading tool. Microsoft Word has seen a sharp decline since 2008 whilst MadCap Flare, Arbortext Editor, JustSystems XMetaL and Adobe FrameMaker gain ground as general authoring tools.

graph_SDL_Global Authoring survery sept 2009_en-05

Figure 5: Usage and Popularity of Authoring Tools


The results of the survey clearly highlight a continual trend towards structured authoring, both with XML and the topic-based authoring approach of DITA. As technical authoring becomes more complex and has to deal with issues such as increasing volumes of content and simultaneous product launches, authoring teams will likely look at strategies such as these to optimize the authoring process.

Despite a trend towards centralization and the effect of the global economic crisis, authoring teams are increasingly aware that what they are writing has an influence on the global nature of their organization. With the ever-increasing amount of documentation available online, there is more pressure for documentation to be translated. Authoring teams must continue to adapt to this requirement by collaborating with either internal or external localization teams, as well as writing in a way that improves the quality and productivity of the localization process. They might reuse content that has been written and translated before or use the same terminology in authoring as in translation. Initiatives and technologies that facilitate writing content efficiently and consistently for global audiences will be increasingly important for authoring teams.

In light of the need for technical authors to think about writing for a global audience, the shift towards centralization, and the expanding trends in XML and DITA, it will be interesting to see how future surveys convey the attitudes toward authoring for consistency. Will consistency concerns rise? Or, will technology, strategies, and processes continue to facilitate consistent technical authoring? Only time will tell. To find out more about these topics or to read the full research paper, visit <>.

Survey details:

The survey was conducted among STC (Society for Technical Communication) and ISTC (Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators) members as well as other authoring and technical documentation professionals. There were 235 respondents, most of whom were Technical Authors, Documentation Managers, Technical Publications Managers, and Consultants. Respondents spanned a variety of industries, including IT & Software (29 percent), Electronics and High Tech (12 percent), Manufacturing (11 percent), and Aerospace (6 percent). Companies such as Microsoft, McAfee, BAE Systems, Sun, Philips, and Intel participated in the survey. CIDMIconNewsletter

1 The Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) is the international OASIS/XML standard for topic-based authoring of well-structured content. DITA is designed for technical information based on a core set of information types: concept, task, and reference. It provides a mechanism for extending the structure to meet your industry’s needs. DITA provides you with a standard, easy-to-use approach for creating topic-based information and assembling topics into books or electronic deliverables.

About the Author








Sophie Hurst

Sophie Hurst is the Director of Product Marketing at SDL, responsible for all their language technology product lines, which help improve the end-to-end process of delivering global content. She speaks 5 languages, is a member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists and during her experience at various IT companies has gained an excellent understanding of the cultural, linguistic and business challenges faced by organizations doing global business.