The Benefits of an XML-First Publishing Workflow

As a leading technology provider, continuous adaptation to emerging industry trends and innovation to serve the scholarly community as the publishing landscape evolves lie at the core of Aries’ overall mission. Aries’ LiXuid Manuscript™ philosophy encompasses our vision for the future of scholarly publishing, in which XML (eXtensible Markup Language) is leveraged to streamline the entire publishing process. But what exactly is XML, why is it important to the publishing workflow, and how does it impact end-users (researchers, Editors, Reviewers, production staff and beyond)?

What is XML and what role does it play in journal production?

Your XML is your content. But unlike a PDF or Word file, the XML text is “marked up” using machine-readable tagging, and in contrast to HTML, the tagging is semantic. This adds meaning to content for the system, making discovering and searching articles quicker and more accurate. For example, an article title is tagged not just so that it appears in 16-point bold type in your browser; it’s tagged to clearly identify it as the article title. XML also contains metadata about the article – who funded it, when it was accepted for publication, etc. While there are many formats of XML, Aries specifically uses Journal Article Tag Suite (JATS) XML, which is a technical standard developed by the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) for scientific journal publishing, though its use has extended to the humanities.

You almost certainly already deliver XML to your online hosting platform, and yet most traditional production workflows treat XML content as an afterthought. Often it is only generated at the end of the correction cycle from the file used for typesetting, with metadata copy/pasted from a transmittal sheet. Systems that do use XML for composition tend to be quite expensive and require operators with XML expertise. These operators are for the most part not content experts, and they may misinterpret the requests for edits that production editors give them.

In the meantime, Authors, Reviewers, Editors and production staff must navigate multiple systems, send annotated PDFs or Word documents back and forth, and keep track of multiple versions of documents. No one enjoys annotating a PDF, and annotating a PDF does not give you the same confidence the changes will be made properly that just making the changes to the content yourself would.

On top of that, traditional production workflows are expensive. The process of converting a document to XML, formatting, and composition typically costs publishers hundreds of dollars per manuscript, and any mistake can cause delays as files are exchanged between production editors and operators who may be many time zones away.

XML separates document content from format choice. A single XML file can be transformed into a variety of formats—HTML for online presentation, PDF, ePub, and more. It makes sense, then, to put XML rather than PDFs at the center of your production workflow.

What is “XML-first” and how can it benefit the publishing workflow?

Harnessing the power of XML earlier in the publishing workflow opens up many doors! Moving the use of XML up to the beginning of the production workflow, which can be considered an XML-early workflow, creates an opportunity for Authors and Editors to make changes directly to the content. This can be made possible by utilizing an integrated XML proofing and editing tool, such as Aries’ LiXuid XML Editor, a word processor-like interface that automatically validates the underlying XML behind-the-scenes as edits are made without requiring any expertise or knowledge of XML. When changes are made, automated pagination tools can create high-quality PDFs at any point in the production workflow. No need for composition vendors, reducing production costs and time to publication. 

By pushing the use of XML even further up in the workflow to the beginning of the editorial process, an XML-first workflow can be achieved. The full-text of a submission can be extracted and automatically converted to XML around the time of submission, with no manual intervention for the vast majority of articles. This means less re-keying of information for Authors, and greater accuracy of the extracted metadata since it is not being entered manually. With structured text from manuscript submission, revisions and peer review commentary can be captured in XML and travel with the document downstream. By utilizing XML from the start, it becomes the underlying backbone and work can be completed in a single, familiar environment within the peer review and production tracking systems. Throughout the workflow, Authors, Editors and Reviewers may not even realize they are changing the underlying XML. The validations and rules built into the toolset ensure that the user cannot “break” the underlying XML; all changes will remain valid to the DTD. The entire publishing workflow can be streamlined from beginning to end, creating an end-to-end solution for users.

And that’s just the beginning of the possibilities. Structured text facilitates automated editorial decision support tools, manuscript screening, and the creation of automatically generated taxonomies. Machine learning and artificial intelligence can easily be applied to an XML workflow to improve and streamline the peer review and production process. Structured XML documentation will make it easier to extract portions of the document to send to AI-based tools for analysis such as SciScore, Scite, and other manuscript evaluation services, if integrated with your peer review tracking system.


Benefits of taking advantage of XML can be felt upstream and are strongly reflected downstream, with processes and workflow enhanced throughout. All stakeholders benefit and system users enjoy a more efficient, accurate submission and review process. Time to publication is reduced, fewer errors are incurred, and perhaps most importantly to publishers, a significant cost savings may be observed. While XML currently plays an auxiliary role in today’s traditional publishing workflow, Aries aims to remove barriers by pioneering an automated, true XML-comprehensive workflow.