A key feature of generalized markup is that the formatting and other processing information associated with the document is separate from the generic tags embedded in it.

In any generalized markup scheme, there is a method for associating processing specifications with the SGML markup. This method of association allows the information to be attached to specific instances of elements as well as to general classes of element types. The primary goal of DSSSL is to provide a standardized framework and methods for associating processing information with the markup of SGML documents or portions of documents.

DSSSL is intended for use with documents structured as a hierarchy of elements. For the purpose of describing in detail the concepts of DSSSL in the subsequent clauses of this International Standard, SGML terminology is used.

DSSSL enables formatting and other processing specifications to be associated with these elements to produce a formatted document for presentation. For example, a designer may wish to specify that all chapters begin on a new recto page and that all tables begin with a page-wide rule to be positioned only at the top or bottom of the page. During the DSSSL transformation process, formatting information may be added to the result of the transformation. This information may be represented as SGML attributes. These, in turn, may be used by the style language to create formatting characteristics with specific values.

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