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Is Topic-Based Authoring the Future for Technical Writing?

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Is topic-based authoring the future for technical writing?

As technology evolves, so must the written content to use this technology.  We are living in a culture where traditional books are being replaced with e-books, and PDFs are already being replaced by topic-based content. This is not the future; this is the present.

Although many would argue that topic-based authoring has been around for 20 years, the reality is that many corporations have only started to adapt their product content from a book format to topic-based authoring.


Most technical writers will likely have been introduced to topic-based authoring – a modular approach to develop topics of content, which can be re-used to assemble into PDFs, websites, help systems and other formats. Topic-based content has the following advantages:

  • topics are reusable; For example: new products, new releases, different media
  • topics are easier to update
  • updates are more cost-effective than documents
  • updates are faster
  • access to specific information is faster


If topic-based authoring is so great, why aren’t all corporations implementing the change?

The obvious immediate disadvantage is cost, time, and effort to implement the change.  Prior to making the move to topic-based authoring, planning is the key to a successful transition. There are many aspects to consider before moving content from documents to a topic-based environment. Here’s a few considerations:

  • Investment costs to implement changes
  • Implementation requires time and training
  • Review process must change
  • Existing content must be adapted to topic-based model
  • Quality writing standards must be revised
  • New release content deadlines are impacted
  • Audience

In the ever-changing world of technical writing, build the case that makes sense for your business.