Is your organization drowning in documentation and paperwork?

You’re not alone.

According to Adobe, 97% of small businesses don’t have a standardized documentation process in place. And, as recently as 2020, nearly three-quarters of teams were using a mix of paper and digital documentation processes.


(It’s no surprise, then, that employees often spend over three hours a week searching for documentation — and that 83% of workers admit to simply recreating documents instead of searching for the original.)

Needless to say, this equates to a ton of wasted time, money, and other resources.

It also means that, if you’re able to stay ahead of the mountain of paperwork and documentation in front of you, you’ll have a huge leg up on your competition.

Which is why it’s so crucial for your team to adopt structured authoring as a practice. 

What is Structured Content & Structured Authoring? 

Structured authoring is the practice of creating structured content — that is, content that adheres to predefined standards as set by your team.

It’s a standardized approach to content creation and management that aims to standardize the structure and organization of text, images, and other content elements developed by your team.

In fact, a main goal of structured authoring is to break content down into its individual elements, or modules. The idea here is that, once a given module is created, it can be reused in other documents with ease.

(In contrast, unstructured content takes a more holistic approach to content — making it difficult to quickly grab and repurpose specific elements of a given piece.)

While structured authoring has very specific applications, it’s a versatile approach that can be used for:

How Structured Authoring Works 

Structured authoring typically uses an XML schema, such as XML Schema Definition (XSD) or Document Type Definition, as a framework for content standardization.

Each schema type defines certain foundational components of an XML document, such as:

  • Attributes and elements 
  • Fixed and default values for specific elements 
  • Element relationships

With XML, you can then customize your framework of choice to meet the content needs of your team.

Here’s a quick example:

<title>Introduction to XML: A Crash Course for Beginners</title>

Here, the <title> tag is used to denote that everything within the brackets is a title and must be formatted as such. Incidentally, the team behind this hypothetical example has set the following rules for all title text:

  1. Capitalize the First Letter: Each word in the title starts with a capitalized letter, except for "to" and "for", following the guideline to lowercase conjunctions, prepositions, and articles (unless they start the title).
  2. No Punctuation at the End: The title correctly does not end with a period, question mark, or exclamation point.
  3. Conciseness: While slightly longer, the title remains descriptive and to the point, effectively conveying the content's focus on providing a foundational crash course on XML for beginners.

So, when an employee goes to create new knowledge base content (for example), the system will require them to adhere to these rules before submitting the post.

Additionally, you can use XML to tag entire pieces of content (called “modules”) — then simply use this tag within separate documents as needed in place of the content itself. For example, you might tag your organization’s overarching Terms of Service as

<termsOfService id="TOS2024">

Then, when creating user agreement documentation for a specific product later on, you’d use this tag to refer to the ToS within the document as in the example below:

<title>Product User Agreement</title>
<p>Welcome to our product user agreement...</p>
<include href="termsOfService.xml#TOS2023"/>
<!-- This tag pulls in the TOS content -->

This will inject the ToS into the user agreement and automatically format it to the specifications and appearance of the overall document — while ensuring the information presented is accurate and consistent with your master ToS documentation. 

Key Benefits of Implementing Structured Authoring 

As complex as structured authoring may sound, it can be largely beneficial to growing companies whose documentation requirements are stretching their team to the max.

Here’s how. 

1. Efficient Content Creation & Management 

Structured authoring can make the process of creating and managing certain types of documentation much more efficient for your team in a key few ways.

For one, style is automatically enforced — meaning content creators can focus entirely on information input without worrying about formatting. If they go out-of-bounds in any way, they’ll be notified and can make adjustments immediately before moving forward.

The modular approach to content creation also allows creators to focus more fully on individual parts of a document — and to eventually bring each module together to create the whole.

Managing internal documentation and information also becomes easier with structured authoring, as it requires you to develop a single source of truth for every asset you create.

(As discussed in the example above, the master asset is then tagged and plugged into all subsequent documentation as needed.)

Moreover, it requires you to tag content assets — essentially categorizing them for both your system and your team members in the process.


This takes the guesswork out of organizing new and existing content over time. Simply follow the framework, and your structured content will manage itself. 

2. Enhanced Content Reusability 

The main long-term benefit of structured authoring is in content reusability.

Again, structured authoring allows you to quickly and easily inject existing content assets into new documents via tagging. Instead of copying-and-pasting existing information every time you create a new document, you’ll simply plug the module into the document — and let your system do the rest.

(The asset is then automatically formatted to meet the publishing criteria of the channel or platform being used.)

To be sure, your documentation needs will only grow over time. That said, creating easily-reusable and recallable master assets via structured authoring is key to keeping that mountain of paperwork as small as possible. 

3. Consistency Across Content 

Structured authoring ensures consistency and uniformity in all applicable content, regardless of where it’s published or who created it.

Once more, in using the same master asset, you guarantee the information presented will be consistent in every document it’s used. Since you’re not actually recreating the content, there’s no chance of presenting inconsistent information within different documents.

(In contrast, there’s always the chance of human error causing discrepancies when manually copying-and-pasting or retyping information into separate documents.)

And, because rules are automatically enforced, structured content is guaranteed to follow the appropriate style — even when created by multiple team members. 

4. Improved Accessibility 

One of the clear advantages structured content has over unstructured is its focus on accessibility.

For one, content creators can set structured content to automatically be translated into various languages based on the user’s preferences, location, and other predetermined factors. In contrast, translating unstructured content requires creating separate documents and files altogether.

You can also change the appearance of the content — or the content itself — for audiences from different locations, cultural backgrounds, etc. For example, you can use XML markup to show local times and dates for users in different international locations, and to edit or remove terms, images, and other media that may be offensive to certain cultures.

5. Better Scalability (& Cost Savings!) 

Structured authoring allows you to substantially increase your content output as your company grows and your documentation needs skyrocket.

Really, the nature of structured content is such that you’ll actually need to create less and less new content over time. Once you’ve created all the master content assets you’ll need, you’ll simply need to fit these modules into any new documentation you create over time.

(And, if you need to change a document that’s already been created, it’s as simple as editing the appropriate module — not creating yet another version of the entire document.)

In the process of creating more content with less effort, your production costs will dramatically decrease. In turn, you’ll have more time and money on hand to make ongoing improvements to your content-related initiatives and more.

A few examples of how this might play out:

  • A tech company frequently releases new products and updates. Structured content enables the rapid creation of documentation and support materials by reusing and combining existing content modules, keeping pace with product development cycles.
  • An ecommerce company expands to international territory, and must translate their content into multiple languages. Moreover, they must ensure all language and terminology used adheres to local and cultural norms. Structured authoring automates this process — and notifies content creators when the need to edit content arises.
  • A healthcare provider operates multiple clinics and is expanding into new regions. Each location requires its own set of documentation, including patient intake forms, informational brochures on services, privacy notices, and regulatory compliance documents that adhere to local healthcare laws. Structured authoring helps the practice save time and money — and avoid a deluge of paperwork as well. 

How to Do Structured Content Authoring Right 

Now, let’s talk about the main things you can do to ensure your structured authoring efforts pay off as intended.

Rather than diving deep into the highly-technical side of things, we’ll take a look at the overarching best practices all teams can apply to their structured authoring initiatives from the get-go — before digging into the nitty-gritty parts of it. 

1. Clearly Define Your Structure 

Establishing a clear content structure is critical for maintaining consistency across your content.

You can start by listing all of the different content types that you’ll be creating via structured authoring. Then, create a template for each one, in which you:

  • Standardize titles, headings, and subheadings 
  • Set guidelines for how information is to be presented 
  • Set metadata standards (e.g., author, publication date, content category)

And if you have unstructured content that you’ll be repurposing into structured content?

Well, you can use this content to create the framework for your structured content to come!

(As long as it works, that is.)

With your team, analyze your existing content to identify commonalities in content types, formats, information architecture, and overall design. From there, you can build frameworks that work with what you already have — and that align with your current and future content needs. 

2. Select the Right Tools 

You didn’t think you’d be doing all this with a basic text editor, did you?

All kidding aside, modern structured authoring software simplifies the entire process for both technical and non-technical teams alike. Software like Oxygen XML Editor, PTC Arbortext, Adobe FrameMaker as well as our very own knowledge base software can be used for your structured authoring initiatives.

At the very least, your structured authoring tool of choice should:

  • Allow for real-time and asynchronous collaboration 
  • Offer document versioning and access controls 
  • Integrate and scale with the other tools in your tech stack

On that note, your CMS, EDMS, and knowledge base tools will all be involved in the structured authoring process. That said, it’s crucial to have a clear plan for how each tool will come into play when developing specific pieces of structured content to maximize your productivity. 

3. Develop Content Modules, Tags, and Metadata 

Now, you can begin developing the copy for your foundational modular content.

Start by focusing on content elements that are most likely to be reused in multiple documents and on multiple channels over time. For example, a software company creating modular content for their help center might first create modular content for instructions on “Installing Software”, “Creating a New Account”, and “Resetting Your Password”.

While your software may offer a number of module templates, they may need to be customized to fully fit your content needs. Either way, be sure to standardize your template of choice to ensure all future edits to the module follow the correct structure and rules.

When creating a given content module, it’s vital to include SMEs and other stakeholders from your team to ensure the content is accurate, relevant, and as comprehensive as necessary. As foundational as these modules will be to your future content creation efforts, there’s zero room for error or vagueness here. 

4. Train Your Content Creators 

Although creating structured content will eventually become entirely formulaic for your team, they’ll still need to be trained in how to do it right at the onset.

Mainly, they need to understand:

  • What structured content and authoring is, what it’s used for, and why it’s so valuable 
  • How to use tags and metadata to create and implement structured content 
  • How to create document- and channel-agnostic structured content for universal usage

While there are plenty of in-depth guides to structured authoring available on the web, you might consider creating your own in-house. That way, you can home in on your team’s specific use cases — offering focused and relevant examples as needed.

You’ll also want to develop supplementary training materials that provide hands-on guidance and real-world practice with your structured authoring process. This way, your team can begin creating as they learn — and continue learning more advanced practices once they’ve gotten the basics down. 

5. Publish and Maintain 

As your structured content library continues to grow, so too will your need to maintain it — and to keep your structured authoring efforts on the up and up.

First and foremost, your foundational modules must always reflect the most accurate and current information available. That said, this content should be assessed and/or updated:

At routine intervals (e.g., monthly, quarterly) 
Whenever changes are made to your policies or operations

You also need to consider how your structured content is being received by its intended audience. To this end, you should be continuously collecting and analyzing document usage data and audience feedback to make your documentation more clear, comprehensive, and useful. 

Using Helpjuice for Supercharged Structured Authoring 

When it comes to implementing structured authoring in your organization, Helpjuice offers a robust knowledge base solution that can be used to streamline the creation, management, and dissemination of your content. Using our platform can support the demands of structured authoring, providing a seamless interface that integrates with your existing workflows and enhances your documentation processes.

  1. Centralized Content Management: Helpjuice's knowledge base software can be used as a single source of truth for all your structured content needs. With everything stored in one place, you can easily access, modify, and reuse content across various documents and platforms. 
  2. Tagging Features: Our platform comes equipped with tagging capabilities, allowing you to categorize and retrieve content efficiently. These features are essential for maintaining an organized content library and for ensuring that your content is easily found when needed.
  3. Version Control: Helpjuice includes versioning capabilities that allow your team to track changes to documents and revert to earlier versions if necessary. This feature is invaluable for maintaining the integrity of your content as it evolves. 
  4. Collaborative Environment: Our knowledge base platform supports collaboration via commenting features within a document, allowing multiple users to work on documents simultaneously. 

By utilizing Helpjuice for your structured authoring needs, you can significantly streamline your content processes, reduce overhead costs, and improve the overall quality and consistency of your documentation. Get a free 14-day trial and see how Helpjuice can help with your structured authoring needs.