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Research-Based Authoring


Preparation of write-ups is typically quite an organic process – you start with some specific ideas around a topic, make notes and begin to expand them. However it is rarely a linear practice, as further ideas and background research brings more to mind.

It is useful though to impose a structured method that separates information collection from article authoring.

Information Collection

This is fundamentally the job of finding and tagging research material.
There are heavy-weight Qualitative Data Analysis tools which partially automate, or at least speed up, the manual process of retrieving and tagging information (PDF, HTML documents etc.)

Note that the resultant information is not intended for direct, verbatim incorporation into a final, published article, but rather as a convenient indexed/tagged source of research data – with possibly the exception of freely redistributable pictures.

Article Authoring

This is the job of creating articles for publication – either completed write-ups, or smaller component snippets which can subsequently be incorporated into one or more published articles, typically deployed in printed form, or as PDF documents, or as HTML pages on the web. 

Re-using existing content is traditionally the territory of Component Content Management Systems (CCMS), also known as XML/Single-source/Structured/Chunky/Component/Compound Content Management.

A CCMS manages content at a granular, component level (rather than at the document level), with each component representing a single concept or discrete topic. Components can be many paragraphs, a picture or table, or a single sentence – like a definition, reference or footnote.

Commercial packages which offer these single-source publishing features include Author-It and Quark Author, but these features are also often offered as part of complex Enterprise Contact Management Systems, and are usually expensive.

Bluestream’s flagship product is the XDocs Component Content Management System (CCMS), an out-of-the-box enterprise DITA CMS.

Alfresco have a Community Edition, but it’s not clear what component functionality it has.

The Minimum Viable Product(s) we are looking for

There is quite a range of possibilities, depending on the intended user/author, but the majority of editorial staff will want a visual-editor type tool which allows the preparation of articles which optionally incorporate snippets (either retrieved from an existing library, or written on-the-fly then appropriately tagged and stored). Hand crafted HTML is too laborious and error prone.

The Bluegriffon WYSIWYG content editor could be a good starting point…

Of course, we have to be mindful of misuse (creating excessively long articles just because semi-automated tools make it too easy to pad-out).

If a piece of content has not yet been authored, the user wants a (separate, but possibly integrated) tool which can scan the (tagged/indexed) research archive and suggest pertinent material which might be of relevance.

The final edited articles (created by this “headless CMS”) will then be passed on for web publishing (in our case to Wordpress, which can manage comments from our readers and also allow the incorporation of live advertising links).