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A Guide to SGML - Standard Generalized Markup Language


Around the world today, the need for information is strongly felt. Information needs to be created, distributed, accessed, and utilized for a complete revolution to be made in any sector of the nation. Hence, there comes the need to manage information, no matter how bulky the data contained accurately may be. And if this need calls for the use of an automated system, then SGML can be a useful tool.

What is SGML?

SGML actually means Standard Generalized Markup Language. It is a standard because it has been declared so by the International Standard. It is generalized because it may not need the use of particular systems, devices, and languages. Mark up here means text added to the data contained in a document so that a better understanding can be attained. SGML uses a Meta language. In general, SGML is the standard method used to embed descriptive mark up within a document.


SGML's interest on any document is to divide it into structure, content and style. To accurately define the structure of any document using SGML, a file known as DTD (Document Type Definition), which creates and maintains the logical pattern of a document is used. SGML documents have tags around it. It is these tags that show the structure. These tags are already made when using SGML software. This is to save time and cost. The standard based time sheets used by SGML are the OS (Output Specification) and the DSSSL (Document Style Semantics and Specification Language).


Increased productivity: As a result of the improved structure of a document done by SGML, the writer becomes less mindful of the appearance of his work and rather faces its content. This saves time and increases productivity since much more content can be written by the writer.

  1. Reusability: Since tags are used to define the beginning, the end and other steps of the document, the machine reading these tags can easily retrieve this data for reuse in several applications.
  2. Information longevity: The information used to define any particular document is always available irrespective of any damage done to the system's hardware or software.
  3. Improved data integrity: A standard guide which is provided by SGML ensures that any information on a document occupies its unique position. With SGML, there is no need for translation to other formats which is capable of causing loss of information.
  4. Better control data: The use of tags in SGML makes it possible to assign attributes to information. Tags can be used as identifiers to locate a sentence, a heading or any other defied part of the document so that the information can either be managed (that is, restricted to some people), updated or corrected.
  5. Shareability: Documents created by SGML can be shared without duplicating because tags are used to organize information. Knowledge of these these tags by two or more people makes it easier for them to share the content of the document.
  6. Portability of Information: Information is said to be portable when it can be accessed by anyone who needs it. Since SGML is an international standard and it is not customized to any particular system, it means that documents obtained by using SGML can stand the test of time and boundaries.
  7. Flexibility beyond traditional publishing: SGML makes it possible for information created today to become available tomorrow. In other words, the reason for creating information today may be different from the use of the same information tomorrow or in ten years to come. The availability of information created by SGML makes it flexible and goes beyond its traditional purpose of publishing.


Getting a good and reliable SGML system is a prerequisite for obtaining all the unique features it offers. Here are some points to consider when going for an SGML system:

  1. Provides real-time interactive parsing: This feature allows the SGML to edit the document according to the author's desire. This feature is outstanding because on the other hand, batch parsing makes editing very tedious and slow.
  2. Uses real SGML: A system using real SGML is in other words a system that uses SGML as its native file format. With a real SGML, the publisher saves time, cost and labor.
  3. Supports any DTD: A good SGML system does not restrict its user to any particular kinds of DTD to be used. A good SGML system actually supports any DTD so that several kinds of documents can be made by the author or publisher.
  4. Supports SGML features: Some attractive features any publisher would desire from an SGML system are: the ability to perform automated publishing and the ability to re-use documents.


The importance of SGML has made its use to become more rampant today in Information Management companies and commercial enterprises. Some enterprises that use SGML and the reasons for their use in the areas are listed below.

  • Airline Industry: For maintaining documentation and in-flight operating manuals.
  • American Association of Publishers: For preparing electronic manuscripts.
  • The internet: For the World Wide Web
  • Oxford English Dictionary: For searching and retrieving database.


CALS is an acronym for Continuous Acquisition and Life-cycle Support. This long term project was initiated by the US department of Defense (DOD) when the need to reduce the cost of supporting and constructing equipment used by the military arose. It is also worthy to note that CALS is the main body governing SGML. 


Understanding SGML should be a major challenge to anyone who does not know its principles by now. This is because the world is fast becoming a global village which is ruled by information. Apart from being engaged in commercial activities, understanding SGML gives the privilege of becoming acquainted with the power and the importance of information management.

For Additional Information, visit:

What is SGML?: The truth on the details of SGML.

How does SGML WORK?: Gives some explanations on how one can use the SGML. Information contained here serves as a prerequisite for learning how to operate the machine.

Uses of SGML: Information on the institutions and companies that use SGML and how this positively forms an impact to any citizen of a nation. 

How to determine a good SGML:  Certain principles to have on the finger tips before buying an SGML.

Understanding SGML: Shows the meaning of SGML features such Mark up Language.

About SGML: Gives a brief history of SGML.

Why use SGML: This explains the importance of using SGML. It is good for a beginner to learn this so as to appreciate the learning course.

All about CALS: Talk on the existence and importance on CALS.

SGML and PDF: The basic relationships between SGML and PDF as well as their differences.

SGML and DTD: Understanding DTD as a tool in SGML systems.

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