Is there a formal specification for authoring plain text documents like they (mostly) are on http://www.tldp.org/HOWTO/text/?

If so, what is it called? Where is it documented?

I'm looking for a guide/spec that would state the formatting rules like "break sections apart with the - character repeated the full length of the screen," etc. Basically I'm wondering if there's a manual I can read that outlines the rules for authoring documents like these in plain text, or if I should just do my best to mimic it.

Aside: I noticed that several of these text documents don't follow 100% exactly the same format, though they all look roughly alike. Are there different versions of this specification, or is this just personal preference by the authors?

2 Answers 2


It seems that the documents you refer to are not written directly in plain text. According to the TLDP FAQ the "HOWTOs are written in SGML or XML, and translated to different output formats using SGML-Tools (Linuxdoc DTD) or the DocBook/DSSSL tools."

I'm supposing then that the plain text output layout is specified by the tools themselves.

Linuxdoc DTD seems to be old tech, but there is a page here: Creating documentation with LinuxDoc that could give you a way forward.

Similarly, this page: DocBook Project gives information on DocBook.

Good luck with your search - I hope you find what you need.

  • 1
    Thanks for the info. I assumed as much about DocBook. Since actually writing DocBook seems like pulling teeth, I'm investigating Asciidoc (asciidoctor.org) instead, which can export to DocBook.
    – neezer
    May 31, 2018 at 22:54

Yes, there is the LDP Author's Guide, on LDP itself.

  • Thanks for the link, but I didn't see anything specific in that document about formatting. However, it does appear that DocBook is the preferred input format, which seems to have a plain text exporter, so maybe that's what's taking care of the formatting... ?
    – neezer
    May 31, 2018 at 0:06
  • Did you check out the templates in the references section? They also have style sheets. They seem to want their documents in XML from DocBook.
    – NomadMaker
    May 31, 2018 at 1:51
  • 1
    Yeah, the templates all appear to be XML, presumably for DocBook. However my question was about plain text files themselves. If DocBook generates the plain text files, then I'd love to know where the specification of that output is defined.
    – neezer
    May 31, 2018 at 4:02

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