Sep 1, 2012 Ξ Comments are off

Basics of DITA

posted by Tenneti

According to Wikipedia, “The Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) is an OASIS standard XML data model for authoring and publishing. Many third party tools support authoring, including Adobe FrameMaker, XMetaL, Arbortext, Quark XML Author, Oxygen XML Editor, easyDITA, and SDL Xopus. With the DITA Open Toolkit publishing system, DITA features single source publishing, inheritance, topic-based authoring, and content reuse.

You might be wondering how DITA is going to help you, in your work as a technical writer. You need to understand the need for DITA to understand how it helps.

What is the basic unit of your documentation? The answer that quickly comes to the mind of a writer is words, paragraphs, or pages. This kind of drilling down only helps you in doing some tasks easily – such as formatting and layout. Beyond that, such a classification will not help establish a document structure for all writers to follow.

Going through your deliverables, manuals, or guides, you will get to notice that these paragraphs and pages have many things in common. Simply put, you can classify paragraphs and pages in another way. For example, you have some paragraphs that explain the features or define the parts of the system. You have another type paragraphs that provide instructions to perform a task. Thirdly, you have a different type of content that provides references to other content that can help you achieve your tasks. Such classification of content into standard information types is the basic aim behind starting DITA standards.

If you consider topic to be the basic unit of information, the first content type described in the previous paragraph refers to the concept. The second content type that talks about procedural information refers to a task topic. Finally, the third topic type is called a reference topic type in DITA. This approach is called topic-based authoring.

As you work on a considerable number of guides for the same product or technology, you will also notice that there is a lot of content that can be used in many places. As the number of documents increase, it might be difficult to remember and update the content in all the documents every time a change needs to be made.

DITA comes to your rescue under such situation as each topic is saved as a single unit that can be reused wherever necessary. While many tools have supported content reuse earlier, DITA implementation makes it easier because of the way in which information is stored in the form of usable chunks and many permutations and combinations can be made to these chunks to provide the user with the required content.
You can also use DITA processors that help transform DITA content into any other format for the end user – print, online Help, and so forth. Thus, DITA implementation also helps with single-source publishing.

You might be wondering if DITA topics are just restricted to concept, task, and references. DITA allows specialization to these topic topics. Using DITA specialization, new elements and attributes can be added to the existing elements and attributes of base topics. Taking it further, you can specialize topic types that suit your industry. Most companies that use DITA develop their own specializations.

When a documentation team defines a specialization depending on its content needs, it can document and share the attributes with all the writers. Thus, writers need to focus only on adhering to the elements specified in the specialization thereby ensuring consistency in document structure.

If you are, now, interesting in implementing DITA in your documentation deliverables, begin by analyzing your content. You will be amazed at the numerous advantages in the short and long term because of implementing structured and topic-based authoring.

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