What is ‘structured content’?

Structured content explained

If you think it’s hard to explain something like TikTok to your 94-year-old grandmother, try explaining the subject of ‘structured content’ to your friends. It’s a struggle for all of us at Fonto. So here’s another try to shed some light on the likes of structured content and the way we make it possible for anyone to create, edit and review it. 

First off, this is how Wikipedia defines structured content: 

“Structured content is information that is organized in a predictable way and is usually classified with metadata. XML is a common storage format, but structured content can also be stored in other standard or proprietary formats.”


The “classified with metadata” part is important to note here. This classification means that the content is enriched with descriptive information e.g. the name of the author, the date the content was published, the target group of the content, location-specific information, etc.

Structured vs Unstructured content

Most of the content produced nowadays is unstructured. Word processors like Microsoft Word and Google Documents produce unstructured content. With these tools, the author focuses more on the way the content ‘looks’ rather than on what the content actually ‘is’. For example, an introduction is marked as ‘bold’ instead of ‘classified’ as an introduction. 

In structured content, “molecular”, “component-based” or “topic-based” authoring is a fundamental paradigm. At Fonto we call these reusable content-sections “Fragments”. As described earlier, each individual fragment is classified with metadata. 

Because fragments are stored and managed as separate files, they allow refined work and approval flows. Handling a section of content as a fragment promotes it to a separate asset, which then becomes usable across multiple documents. Because fragments are reused, they increase control over content consistency and quality.

Structured content requires a schema i.e. a set of rules against which the content is validated. This is the so-called XML Schema Definition (XSD). The XSD consists of elements, e.g. an introduction, that are allowed within the content itself, and it defines how the content is structured i.e. where the introduction can and cannot be inserted.

Why structured content?

Structured content is perfectly optimized for single-source and multi-channel publishing, meaning that the content can be created once and published directly, without conversions, to web/mobile (HTML) and print (PDF). This speeds up the publishing process and saves valuable time and costs.  

In addition, structured content contributes to efficiency in content creation. The XML format allows for the reuse of fragments, e.g. a ‘disclaimer’ in a legal document. Instead of copying and pasting this disclaimer multiple times within and between documents, it can be created once and referred to multiple times. When the disclaimer needs to be changed due to new legislation, just the one source fragment needs to be edited. It makes the change process faster and much less error-prone. 

You could say that structured content is closer to (machine-readable) data than to prose. Again the example of a disclaimer: with XML content it’s easy to determine how many times the disclaimer is used, where it is used and referred to, what languages it is translated in, etc. With unstructured content, you would need a lot more time and a good search engine to get the same result.  

Who creates structured content?

Until recently, creating structured (XML) content creation was done by technical writers, using expert (desktop) software e.g. Arbortext, Oxygen XML Author and Xmetal Author. Anyone not familiar with XML would have a hard time working with these tools. 

To make structured content creation possible for non-technical writers i.e. subject matter experts, we’ve created Fonto. Today, thousands of experts worldwide create structured content in a web-based, Word-like interface. 

We’ve opened up the world of structured content creation for experts in aviation, pharma, finance, high tech, defense, legal, publishing and standardization, and we hope to do so in many more verticals.  

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