Su-Laine Yeo, JustSystems, Inc.

In the global economy, “sim-ship”—simultaneously shipping in multiple languages—is becoming the new normal. Companies are expected to deliver their messages to a global audience, in a wide variety of languages, at the same time. The audience may be customers, partners, employees, industry watchers, and others who, together, could speak 20 or more different languages. Regardless, simultaneous shipping is expected for even rapidly- and frequently-updated messages and content. XML is the most efficient way for companies to meet that expectation.

Without XML, weeks can pass after content is translated before it is ready to ship. A typical story is something like this: “We write content in English and localize it for up to 10 other languages, and our build times are as high as two days per deliverable per language. It takes this long because after content comes back from the translators, somebody has to spend a day or two for each language making that FrameMaker, Word or help file look good and read correctly.”

Moving to XML can allow build times to be reduced from days per language to minutes. XML saves time by separating content and formatting, enabling the formatting work to be automated. That is a huge advantage in the world of simultaneous shipping. No matter how many revisions content goes through, the formatting is automatically generated according to stylesheets. Nobody has to manually reformat for each revision, for each language and each deliverable. With XML, deliverables are created with the right formatting with the push of a button.

In addition to time saved in post-translation production tasks, XML brings other advantages to companies that aim to practice simultaneous shipping. For example, XML supports content reuse to drive significant cost savings. Content reuse prevents content duplication, and more importantly for sim-shipping, it prevents translation duplication. When a company pays by the word to translate content, minimizing content redundancy saves a lot of money.

Strategic content reuse also reduces the risk of errors and outdated messages. For example, if an error in English content is copied and pasted into multiple documents and then each document is separately translated, it is very difficult to find all the versions of the error in all languages.

Second, XML enables automatic sorting based on the target language. With XML, the computer—not the writer—can be made to sort pieces of content that should be alphabetized, such as glossary entries. Without XML, a writer sorts content in one language, and then translators must re-sort that content into each language. This manual effort can be automated by XML.

Third, XML makes it possible for companies to mark what parts of a document should be translated and what parts should not be translated. Often a document includes sections, such as mailing addresses or computer source code that must remain in the original language. The ability to mark such sections as “do not translate” eliminates the errors that occur when content is accidentally translated.

Fourth, XML and particularly DITA, the Darwin Information Typing Architecture, makes it possible to write documents as a collection of small files that can then be seamlessly assembled into larger deliverables. With this modular approach to writing, it is also possible to send content to translators in a series of small packages rather than as one big event, giving translators an earlier start. When documents are updated, modularization also minimizes the cost of analyzing which words need to be translated, as modules with no changes do not have to be analyzed at all.

Consider the case in which an organization supports 12 languages in print and on the web. Any given product description could be used in marketing materials, on the website, and in technical support materials, as well as in product documentation. Using worst-case (but typical) procedures, when a product description changes, each business unit must re-translate the description into 12 languages, effectively generating 40 to 50 projects for each change. XML streamlines that process. The product description can be translated into the target languages one time, and then the business units can format the content for their deliverables.

The requirement to sim-ship is driving more organizations to embrace XML and deliver content more effectively in multiple languages. With traditional manual processes, nothing can be released until the content is published in all of the target languages, in all of the target formats. XML dramatically accelerates message delivery, offering an alternative to days and weeks spent formatting, sorting and performing other tasks by hand. For companies committed to sim-ship, XML is the new normal.

Su-Laine Yeo is a solutions consultant for XMetaL at JustSystems and an active member of the OASIS DITA Technical Committee. Learn more about JustSystems at and contact Su-Laine at

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