Structured Text Syntax in Programming, Automation and Engineering Documentation

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18 Jun, 2024

Structured Text Syntax in Programming, Automation and Engineering Documentation

Structured text is a standardized method of organizing and presenting information in a hierarchical format, ensuring precision and consistency in engineering and programming environments.

Structured text (ST) is becoming a cornerstone in engineering documentation, enabling precise, standardized, and efficient communication. This guide delves into the foundational concepts, recent advancements, practical applications, and challenges of using structured text in engineering projects. Discover how this technology is shaping the future of engineering documentation.


Structured text is a pivotal advancement in the realm of engineering documentation, offering a systematic approach to organizing information. This method, characterized by its use of defined syntax and structured data, significantly enhances the clarity and precision of engineering documents. By adopting structured text, engineers can ensure consistency and accuracy across various documentation types, from technical manuals to project specifications. 

This not only streamlines the documentation process but also facilitates better communication among engineering teams. The implementation of structured text is set to revolutionize engineering practices, making documentation more efficient and reliable. Its potential impact spans improved project management, reduced errors, and enhanced collaboration, positioning it as an essential tool in modern engineering workflows.

Understanding Structured Text: The Basics

What is Structured Text?

Structured text is a method of organizing and presenting information using predefined syntax and data structures to ensure clarity, consistency, and precision. This method is crucial in engineering documentation, where accuracy and standardization are of prime importance. At its core, structured text relies on a set of rules and formats that dictate how information should be written and interpreted. This includes specific grammar, which defines how sentences are constructed, and data structures, which organize and categorize the information.

The syntax of structured text involves the use of standardized tags, keywords, and symbols that convey specific meanings. For example, in the context of engineering documentation, structured text might use XML or JSON formats, which provide a clear structure for representing data. Each element within these formats is defined by tags that describe the type of data it contains, such as <title>, <section>, or <value>. This structured approach ensures that both humans and machines can easily read and interpret the information, reducing the likelihood of errors and miscommunication.

In contrast, unstructured text lacks these predefined rules and structures. It is typically written in natural language, which can be ambiguous and inconsistent. For instance, an unstructured engineering report might include narrative descriptions, ad-hoc formatting, and varied terminology, making it difficult to parse and analyze systematically. This inconsistency can lead to significant challenges in maintaining accuracy and efficiency in documentation processes.

To illustrate the difference, consider an example from engineering documentation. A structured text document might describe a component using a clear hierarchy of tags:

    <name>Hydraulic Pump</name>
        <pressure>5000 psi</pressure>
        <flow_rate>10 gpm</flow_rate>

This structured format allows for precise data retrieval and interpretation, as each piece of information is explicitly labeled and categorized. The use of standardized tags ensures that the information can be easily understood and processed by software tools, facilitating better data management and integration.

Conversely, an unstructured description might look like this:

"The hydraulic pump operates at a pressure of 5000 psi and has a flow rate of 10 gpm."

While this sentence is understandable, it lacks the clear demarcation and standardized format that structured text provides, making it more challenging to extract specific data programmatically. The lack of structure can lead to inefficiencies and errors, particularly in large-scale engineering projects where precise data management is critical.

In software development, structured text is also prevalent. Consider JSON, a lightweight data-interchange format:

    "component": {
        "name": "Hydraulic Pump",
        "specifications": {
            "pressure": "5000 psi",
            "flow_rate": "10 gpm"

This JSON example showcases how structured text facilitates data exchange and interoperability between systems by adhering to a standardized format. The ability to represent complex data structures in a clear and consistent manner is a significant advantage, enabling more efficient development and maintenance of software systems.

json-vs-xmlJSON, favored for its lightweight format and ease of use in web applications, contrasts with XML, which offers extensive flexibility and robust data structuring capabilities for complex applications.

Overall, structured text's predefined syntax, grammar, and data structures significantly enhance the efficiency and reliability of engineering documentation and software development processes. By ensuring clarity and consistency, structured text helps engineers manage information more effectively, leading to improved project outcomes and reduced risk of errors.

Key Components of Structured Text

Structured text relies on several key components that collectively ensure its effectiveness in organizing and presenting information clearly and consistently. These components include data types, control structures, and modular design, each playing a crucial role in the structured text paradigm.

Data Types: Data types define the kind of data that can be stored and manipulated within a structured text framework. Common data types include integers, floating-point numbers, strings, and boolean values (true and false). By specifying data types, structured text ensures that the data is processed accurately and consistently. For example, in engineering documentation, data types might be used to define measurement units or component specifications, ensuring that numerical values are interpreted correctly.

    "component": {
        "name": "Hydraulic Pump",
        "specifications": {
            "pressure": 5000,
            "pressure_unit": "psi",
            "flow_rate": 10,
            "flow_rate_unit": "gpm"

In this JSON example, the data types for pressure and flow rate are clearly defined, which helps in maintaining the integrity and precision of the data.

Control Structures: Control structures are constructs that dictate the flow of execution within a structured text document or program. These include loops, conditionals, and branches that enable complex logical operations and decision-making processes. Control structures in structured text are crucial for managing complex automation tasks across various systems. These include if statements and else statements, case statements, and specialized variations such as end_if, end_case and elsif, which are common in some programming languages. Additionally, function block diagrams play a significant role in visual and graphical organization of these tasks, enhancing the clarity and efficiency of process management in automation projects. In the context of engineering documentation, control structures can automate repetitive tasks and streamline data processing.

        <name>Hydraulic Pump</name>
            <pressure>5000 psi</pressure>
            <flow_rate>10 gpm</flow_rate>
        <name>Electric Motor</name>

This XML snippet uses a simple structure to list multiple components, demonstrating how control structures can organize and manage complex data sets efficiently.

Modular Design: Modular design refers to the practice of breaking down a system into smaller, manageable components or modules, each with a specific function. This approach promotes reusability and simplifies maintenance. In structured text, modular design is often achieved through the use of templates, functions, and reusable code blocks.

    "component_template": {
        "name": "",
        "specifications": {}
    "components": [
            "name": "Hydraulic Pump",
            "specifications": {
                "pressure": "5000 psi",
                "flow_rate": "10 gpm"
            "name": "Electric Motor",
            "specifications": {
                "voltage": "220V",
                "current": "5A"

In this example, a template for components is defined and then reused to create specific component instances. This modular approach enhances the efficiency of creating and managing structured text documents.

By integrating these key components—data types, control structures, and modular design—structured text provides a robust framework for engineering documentation and programming. This systematic approach not only ensures clarity and precision but also facilitates better data management and interoperability across various systems and applications.

Applications of Structured Text

Structured text plays a crucial role in various technological and business applications by facilitating straightforward and effective data storage and interchange. This versatility supports essential operations across many sectors. Here are some key applications that showcase the utility of structured text:

Data Interchange

Structured text is instrumental in data interchange, enabling seamless communication between different systems and platforms. Formats like XML, JSON, and YAML are widely used for their flexibility and ease of integration.

Example 1: JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) is a critical part in web services and APIs for its lightweight nature and ease of use with JavaScript, making it a preferred format for web and mobile applications.

Example 2: XML is frequently employed in enterprise settings for exchanging data across business systems due to its ability to handle complex hierarchical data structures and extensive support in various programming environments.

Configuration Files

Structured text is extensively used in managing configuration settings, where configuration files written in structured text formats are favored for their readability and editability.

Example: YAML files are pivotal in configuring software applications, especially in DevOps for managing complex workflows and deployment settings due to their clear syntax and flexibility in handling data types.

Web Development

In web development, structured texts such as HTML, XML, JSON, and the use of REST APIs are foundational in creating and structuring web content and ensuring efficient data communication.

Role of HTML: HTML organizes web pages with its structured tags, enabling formatting and embedding multimedia content, thus forming the building blocks of all websites.

Role of XML and JSON: XML and JSON are used for data storage and transfer. JSON, in particular, is highly integrated with RESTful APIs, facilitating data exchanges between clients and servers in a compact format that is easy for both humans and machines to understand.[1]

Industrial Applications

Automation engineering increasingly relies on structured text due to its precision and adaptability in managing complex industrial systems. This programming methodology is vital in industrial settings, particularly in programming and controlling automated systems like Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) and Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs).

Further reading: What is a PLC (Programmable Logic Controllers): A Comprehensive Guide

Example: In the realm of automation, platforms such as CODESYS and Allen Bradley's Studio 5000 utilize structured text, a high-level language for PLC programming, defined in IEC 61131-3. This language is designed to write sophisticated algorithms that manage and automate machinery operations, with its syntax offering a clear advantage for real-time industrial applications.

Allen Bradley's RSLogix 5000 and Siemens TIA Portal exemplify how structured text enhances the flexibility and control necessary for complex automation tasks. While a PLC can also be programmed using ladder logic or sequential function charts (SFC), text PLC programming with structured text provides a more robust solution for advanced data handling and intricate algorithms, making it the preferred choice in settings like Rockwell Automation's integrated systems.

Further reading: Exploring Ladder Logic Programming: An In-depth Exploration

HMIs, often programmed using Logix software, benefit significantly from structured text. This allows for detailed and responsive control interfaces that are crucial for monitoring automated processes. 

Further reading: HMI Technologies: The Ultimate Guide to Human-Machine Interface Innovations

Structured text programming (ST programming), supported by tools like Studio 5000 and RSLogix 5000, offers a scalable and efficient approach to handling the automation needs of modern industries, from simple machinery control to complex networked systems.

Cutting-Edge Developments in Structured Text

Recent Innovations and Their Implications

Structured text-based technology has seen significant advancements in recent years, driven by the development of new algorithms and data structures that enhance its capabilities. One of the notable innovations is the introduction of more sophisticated parsing algorithms. These algorithms, such as Recursive Descent and LL(k) parsers, have greatly improved the ability to interpret and process complex structured text documents. By allowing for more efficient and accurate parsing, these algorithms reduce the likelihood of errors in documentation and increase the reliability of data extraction.

Another key advancement is the development of enhanced data structures that support structured text. These include abstract syntax trees (ASTs) and directed acyclic graphs (DAGs), which provide a more robust framework for organizing and navigating structured data. ASTs, for instance, represent the hierarchical structure of source code in a tree format, making it easier to analyze and transform code during the compilation process. DAGs are used to model relationships between data points without cyclic dependencies, facilitating more efficient data processing and management.

These technological improvements have significantly impacted the field of engineering documentation. For example, modern structured text editors now incorporate these advanced parsing algorithms and data structures, enabling engineers to create, edit, and validate documentation with greater ease and accuracy. This has led to more efficient workflows, as engineers can quickly identify and correct errors in their documentation, reducing the time and effort required for manual verification.

A specific case study highlighting the benefits of these innovations is the implementation of structured text in the aerospace industry. Aerospace engineering projects require meticulous documentation to ensure compliance with stringent safety and regulatory standards. By leveraging advanced parsing algorithms and data structures, aerospace engineers have been able to automate the validation of technical documents, ensuring that all specifications and requirements are met accurately. This automation has not only improved the quality of the documentation but has also expedited the review and approval processes, leading to faster project completion times.

Another example is the use of structured text in software development and electronics engineering, particularly in the development of embedded systems PLCs. The introduction of tools that utilize advanced data structures like ASTs has enabled programmers and software developers to perform more thorough code analysis and optimization. These tools help identify potential issues early in the development cycle, such as coding errors or performance bottlenecks, which can then be addressed before deployment. This proactive approach has resulted in more reliable and efficient software systems, ultimately enhancing the overall performance of embedded applications.

The latest advancements in structured text technology, including new algorithms and data structures, have profoundly improved the efficiency and accuracy of engineering documentation. By automating complex tasks and providing robust frameworks for data management, these innovations have enabled engineers to produce higher-quality documentation more efficiently, supporting better project outcomes and fostering innovation in various engineering disciplines.

Integrating Structured Text with Modern Engineering Tools

Structured text is increasingly being integrated with modern engineering software and tools to enhance the efficiency and accuracy of documentation processes. This integration leverages the strengths of structured text—such as its clear syntax and robust data structures—to improve data management and streamline engineering workflows.

Improved Parsing and Automated Validation: One of the primary technical benefits of integrating structured text with engineering tools is the enhancement of parsing capabilities. Advanced parsing algorithms can efficiently interpret structured text, enabling automated validation of documentation. This automation ensures that documents adhere to predefined standards and formats, significantly reducing the risk of errors. For instance, tools like XML Schema and JSON Schema are used to validate structured text documents against specific rules, ensuring consistency and correctness.

Enhanced Data Interoperability: Structured text facilitates seamless data exchange between different systems and tools. By using standardized formats like XML and JSON, structured text ensures that information can be easily shared and interpreted across various software platforms. This interoperability is crucial in complex engineering projects where multiple tools and systems need to work together cohesively.

Examples of Popular Tools:

  1. Microsoft Visual Studio Code (VS Code): A widely-used code editor that supports a range of structured text formats through extensions. For instance, the "XML Tools" extension provides features like XML formatting, validation, and XPath evaluation. VS Code's integrated development environment (IDE) capabilities allow engineers to work efficiently with structured text documents.[2] 

  2. Oxygen XML Editor: A powerful tool specifically designed for editing XML documents. It offers comprehensive support for XML, including schema validation, XSLT transformations, and advanced search capabilities. Oxygen XML Editor also integrates with version control systems, making it easier for engineering teams to collaborate on documentation.

  3. Eclipse IDE: An open-source IDE that supports various structured text formats through plugins. The "JSON Editor Plugin" for Eclipse provides features like syntax highlighting, validation, and content assist for JSON documents. Eclipse's extensibility allows engineers to customize their workspace to suit their specific needs.[3]

  • Jupyter Notebooks: Widely used in data science and engineering, Jupyter Notebooks support structured text formats like JSON for representing data. The integration of JSON with Jupyter allows for interactive data analysis and visualization, enhancing the usability and functionality of engineering workflows.

Integrating structured text with modern engineering tools not only enhances the accuracy and efficiency of documentation processes but also improves collaboration and data interoperability. By leveraging the strengths of these tools, engineers can ensure that their documentation is precise, consistent, and easily shareable across different platforms and teams.

Overcoming Challenges with Structured Text

Common Obstacles and Solutions

Implementing structured text in engineering documentation presents several technical challenges that must be addressed to ensure successful adoption and utilization. Here are some common obstacles and practical solutions to overcome them:

1. Parsing Complexity: Structured text often involves complex syntax and hierarchical data structures, which can make parsing challenging.

  • Solution: Utilize advanced parsing algorithms such as Recursive Descent and LL(k) parsers. These algorithms can handle complex structures more efficiently.

  • Best Practices:

    • Employ libraries and tools specifically designed for parsing structured text formats like XML and JSON.

    • Regularly update parsers to accommodate new syntax and features.

2. Data Validation: Ensuring that structured text documents adhere to predefined schemas and standards is critical but can be difficult to achieve.

  • Solution: Implement robust validation frameworks such as XML Schema Definition (XSD) for XML and JSON Schema for JSON.

  • Best Practices:

    • Use automated validation tools during the documentation creation process to catch errors early.

    • Maintain comprehensive and up-to-date schemas to reflect the latest standards and requirements.

3. Interoperability Issues: Integrating structured text across various systems and tools can lead to compatibility problems.

  • Solution: Adopt standardized formats and ensure all systems support these standards.

  • Best Practices:

    • Use widely-accepted structured text formats like XML and JSON to facilitate interoperability.

    • Conduct regular compatibility testing between different systems and tools.

4. Complexity of Editing Tools: Engineers may find it challenging to use advanced text editors and IDEs for structured text, especially if they are not user-friendly. Discussions in professional forums and online tutorials for beginners often highlight the challenges and solutions related to using semicolons and parentheses correctly in structured text programming examples to ensure the integrity and functionality of code.

  • Solution: Provide training and support for using advanced text editors and integrate user-friendly features.

  • Best Practices:

    • Choose editors and IDEs that offer extensive support for structured text, including syntax highlighting, auto-completion, and validation.

    • Develop internal guides and training sessions to help users become proficient with the tools.

5. Performance Overheads: Processing large structured text documents can introduce significant performance overheads, especially in real-time applications.

  • Solution: Optimize the processing algorithms and use efficient data structures to manage large documents.

  • Best Practices:

    • Implement indexing and caching mechanisms to speed up data retrieval and processing.

    • Profile and optimize parsing and validation routines to minimize performance bottlenecks.

6. Version Control and Collaboration: Managing versions and collaboration on structured text documents can be more complex than with traditional text.

  • Solution: Utilize version control systems (VCS) like Git that support structured text and enable collaborative editing.[4]

  • Best Practices:

    • Configure VCS to handle structured text file formats correctly, enabling diff and merge capabilities.

    • Establish clear collaboration workflows and guidelines to manage document versions effectively.

By addressing these common challenges with practical solutions and best practices, engineers can successfully implement structured text in their documentation processes, leading to more efficient, accurate, and reliable outcomes.

Further reading: Low-Code vs. No-Code vs. Custom Development: What's the Best Approach for Your Business?


Structured text has revolutionized engineering documentation by offering a systematic approach to organizing and presenting information. This method ensures clarity, consistency, and precision, addressing the complexities and challenges of traditional documentation methods. Recent advancements in algorithms and data structures have further enhanced the capabilities of structured text, enabling improved parsing, automated validation, and better interoperability across systems.

Looking forward, the adoption of structured text is set to grow, driven by the increasing need for efficient and accurate documentation in engineering projects. Staying updated with the latest developments in structured text technology will be crucial for engineers to leverage its full potential, ensuring better project outcomes and fostering innovation in various engineering disciplines.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is the primary benefit of using structured text in engineering?

The primary benefit of using structured text in engineering is its ability to provide clear, consistent, and precise documentation. This is achieved through predefined syntax and data structures, which reduce errors and improve the reliability of information.

Additional Benefits:

  • Enhanced data interoperability between different systems.

  • Automated validation of documentation against predefined standards.

  • Improved efficiency in data management and retrieval.

2. How does structured text differ from traditional documentation methods?

Structured text differs from traditional documentation methods by using predefined rules and structures, ensuring consistency and accuracy. Traditional documentation often relies on natural language, which can be ambiguous and inconsistent.


Structured Text

Traditional Documentation


Predefined, standardized

Natural language, varied

Data Structure

Hierarchical, clear demarcation

Ad-hoc, less structured

Error Reduction

High, due to validation rules

Low, prone to human error


High, standardized formats

Low, varied formats


Easily automated

Difficult to automate

Ease of Use

Requires learning specific syntax

Generally intuitive


Highly precise, supports complex data

Less precise, more generalized

Tool Support

Extensive (IDEs, XML/JSON tools)

General text editors

3. What tools are available for implementing structured text in engineering projects?

Several tools and software support the implementation of structured text in engineering projects, each with specific features that enhance documentation processes.

  • Microsoft Visual Studio Code (VS Code):

    • Supported Formats: XML, JSON, YAML, Markdown

    • Key Features: Syntax highlighting, auto-completion, validation, integrated terminal

  • Oxygen XML Editor:

    • Supported Formats: XML, XSLT, XQuery, JSON

    • Key Features: Schema validation, XSLT transformations, XPath/XQuery evaluation, version control integration

  • Eclipse IDE:

    • Supported Formats: XML, JSON, HTML, JavaScript

    • Key Features: Plugin architecture, syntax highlighting, validation, debugging and troubleshooting tools

  • Jupyter Notebooks:

    • Supported Formats: JSON, Python, Markdown

    • Key Features: Interactive coding, data visualization, support for multiple programming languages

4. Can structured text be used in all types of engineering documentation?

Structured text is highly versatile and can be used in various types of engineering documentation, providing significant benefits in each context.

  • Technical Manuals: Ensures precision and consistency in instructions and specifications.

  • Project Specifications: Facilitates clear and unambiguous communication of requirements.

  • Design Documents: Enhances the organization and retrieval of design information.

  • Test Reports: Enables automated validation and consistency in test results.


[1] Viljoen D. The Role of JSON and XML in API Data Transfers. 2023 Dec 5. Available from:

[2] XML Tools - Visual Studio Marketplace. Microsoft. Available from:

[3] JSON Editor Plugin. Eclipse Plugins, Bundles and Products - Eclipse Marketplace. Eclipse Foundation; 2022 Dec 14. Available from:

[4] Mistry K. A Comprehensive Guide to Version Control with Git and GitHub. DEV Community; 2023. Available from: