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The death of WYSIWYG?

Formatting matters, is it the death of WYSIWYG? (medical translation)
WYSIWYG. It's been called the perfect way to write, where what you see on the screen exactly matches what you get on paper, and modern WYSIWYG authoring tools are extremely close to that ideal. Yet despite fonts that are antialiased and image files that appear in full 24-bit glory when inserted, everything is not well.

Why? For one thing, users struggle to make sense of all of the functionality embedded in a modern word processor. Who hasn't watched people struggle to get their templates to work, make all the letters look the same, have their document formatting look the same across computers, prevent the document from putting single lines on the last page, and try and make sense of bulleted lists?

More fundamentally, though, structured authoring is bringing single-sourced (publishing the same content in various output formats) and reused (reusing bits and pieces from one document in another one) to the masses and is rendering WYSIWYG obsolete.

tcworld recently had a good article on this topic. Why formatting matters calls WYSIWYG a "false premise" and argues that it is being replaced by WYSIWYM: What You See Is What You Mean.

Personally, I'm skeptical. There can be no denying the rise of structured authoring or the above-mentioned frustrations with WYSIWYG. And sure, usability experts have lamented its limitations for years. But while technical writers and techies might love the control that comes with WYSWYM, I can't imagine average users embracing the article's notion that "[there] is just content, and visible – not visualizable – structure" as in this screenshot (click for larger version):

FrameMaker 11 showing a DITA document in the new Author View (medical translation)

What do you think? R.I.P. WYSIWYG? Or is this just something for tech writing groups?

ForeignExchange provides specialized medical translation services to the world's leading medical device and pharmaceutical companies.


  1. Shelley Horwitz said...
    Are you insane. Even to ask this question implies that you don't have the foggiest idea what the letters WYSIWYG mean. For the unenlightened, like the author of this topic, WYSIWYG means "What You See Is What You Get." The entire concept is to be able to literally see (and feel?) what your readers will see and feel while you are creating it.

    To see, hear, and interact with the results of our work as the user will see, hear, and use it is (and always will be) the best way to create high quality, usable documentation. (Note: in this last sentence, I have expanded the concept of WYSIWYG to other sensory and perceptual qualities like sound and navigation.) To actually see and feel what we create as we create it is the absolute ideal in developing any kind of art (and writing is art). In most creative endeavors, imagination is the only way to realize this vision before a work is completed. Just think about how an artist "sees" a painting or sculpture. In technical communication, we have the luxury of actually experiencing that realization; to see what we create as we create it.

    How you deliver your product is absolutely irrelevant!!! Structured (networked) or sequential (e.g., PDF) is only the method output systems use for showing your product to your users. It is only important for you to know and see how it will appear to those users... that is WYSIWYG.

    Do you consider moving backward half a century to be progress. Your clock is simply running in the wrong direction. Better questions for this group are, "How can we make WYSIWYG even better, more accurate, and more realistic for creators? How can we add other media to the WYSIWYG paradigm... like video and sound, maybe even feelings and interaction?" Better to ask, "How will WYSIWYG evolve in the next fifty years?"

    [Via LinkedIn]
    Shaun McCance said...
    Wow, somebody thinks highly of himself. WYSIWYG, in its truest sense, is entirely at odds with structured authoring. The whole point of structured authoring is that you mark up what something is, not what it looks like. You can have editors that give a reasonable visual rendering, but it can never truly be WYG. I know a lot of writers who don't use WYSISYG editors. They are very productive, and their work can be repurposed much more easily than any Word document.

    [Via LinkedIn]

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