How we’re building the ‘mountain chalet’ of complex conversions

When scaling great heights, sometimes you need a place to rest before moving on.

That’s one analogy for XSweet, a toolkit under development by the Coko Foundation. It offers a set of stylesheets for extraction and refinement of data from MS Office Open XML (.docx) format, producing HTML for editorial workflows.

XSweet developer Wendell Piez offered that parallel in a recent presentation at JATS-Con 2017. The two-day conference centers around Journal Article Tag Suite (JATS), an XML format for marking up and exchanging journal content.

The toolkit offers a new path to document conversion — instead of heading first to a format like JATS, XSweet delivers the document into HTML, the lingua franca of the web. Once the document is in HTML, it can be processed in a web-based workflow, progressively improved using browser tools and easily go out to other formats from there. What was once a tedious trek becomes a journey where collaborators focus on what matters — editing and determining the details of publishing. Details of his talk are available as part of the conference proceedings.

XSweet offers “refuge” from the slog of conversion because instead of immediately trying to produce structured JATS from unstructured Docx, it produces a faithful rendering of a Word document’s appearance translated into a vernacular HTML/CSS.

In a 45-minute session titled “HTML First? Testing an alternative approach to producing JATS from arbitrary (unconstrained or “wild”) .docx (WordML) format,” Piez walked the audience through a mini-editorial process: taking a Word docx file sent by an author and pushing it through XSweet to produce an HTML file.  “The few hours it took me to produce BITS from the docx original, that was both faithful and also better for further editing and application, were minimal in comparison to the time we were then able to spend on things that really mattered,” Piez said.

Piez is pleased about how the talk went.  “A number of audience members approached me afterwards, many of whom had themselves looked this problem in the face before and were willing to confirm the sense of the problem and approaches to it.”