What is DITA and why does your company need it?
Coming back from the tcworld conference 2016 last week, we got inspired about the many possibilities of technical communication and the new technologies that are around the corner. At the same time, the exhibition reminded us of the many challenges companies are facing when it comes to structuring their information. A good starting point for us to talk about one of the fastest growing standards in information structuring today: DITA. Is your company using it already? And if not, why should it be?
The amount of information that is generated on the internet on a daily basis is mindblowing. People are consuming content more than ever and companies are constantly challenged to feed the content beast. At the same time, media companies try to keep up by improving the quality and speed of their broadband services.
But what is true for the internet certainly counts for your company too. Just think about the enormous amount of content your company is creating. Web content, marketing content, manuals, technical documentation… It’s a daunting task for information managers and IT professionals to keep up with the avalanche of new data. Their daily challenge is to figure out not only how people can easily find the right information at the right time, but also how this information can be created more efficiently.
Authoring technical documentation
One way of bringing order in the chaos is by using markup languages in order to make it easier for software systems to process information. XML is such a markup language, but it’s certainly not the only one, and there are many XML document types.
This brings us to DITA or Darwin Information Typing Architecture, which is probably one of the fastest growing XML standards for technical documentation today. DITA is an open standard for authoring and delivering sophisticated modular documentation with a strong focus on reuse and linking.
So, why the Darwin in the name? Suffice it to say for now that it refers to Darwin’s idea that all things relate to each other, like chickens relate to dinosaurs. In the world of documentation, this relates to the idea of inheritance and the fact that, when you make a change in one document, you will need to adapt multiple other documents with the same content too.
How does DITA work?
All DITA content is organized into self-contained topics, which need to be short enough to address a single subject or answer a single question but long enough to make sense on their own and be authored as a self-contained unit. These topics are the building blocks that can be organized into maps, which are publishable to multiple media formats.
This way of working is what we call structured writing. In contrast, unstructured content is content that exists in the silos of various unrelated media types, like Word documents, spreadsheets, slides, PDFs, or email.
When does DITA make sense?
When you are planning to write your next literary novel masterpiece, then DITA will probably not be for you. However, DITA is becoming increasingly popular among technical translators and technical writers.
And for good reason. DITA works very well for modular content or content that talks about procedures, like technical manuals. This is typically the medium where a lot of content is reused. Just think about the many similarities between a technical manual and a training document, or between a manual and a marketing brochure.
Why should your company use DITA?
Authoring your technical information to a structured platform like DITA offers substantial benefits. If your company has large amounts of technical, instructional content across many different sources, or if you need to work consistently across different teams, then DITA may be the way to go.
- The biggest benefit of using DITA is probably that it reduces time and cost while creating content. DITA is specifically designed to make it easier to reuse content that has already been created. In DITA-language: adding new topics does not make previous projects incompatible with new ones. In fact, DITA allows for child elements to inherit their parent's transformation.
- Especially in larger organizations, version control can be a nightmare. With DITA, authors need only make a change once and have it updated in all relevant documents, eliminating outdated information and maintaining consistent version control.
- DITA also separates content from presentation, which allows your technical writers to focus on the content and not worry about formatting. This enables them to work faster. But this concept also makes it possible to easily publish your content in multiple formats, be it web, print or on any other device.
- Working with DITA across different teams enables your organization to collaborate more efficiently. Just think about the many documents your technical writing and training teams have in common, and you’ll realize how much time, effort and frustration can be avoided while exchanging content.
How are you making your content smarter?
It’s no coincidence that DITA is the fastest growing XML standard for technical documentation out there. Yamagata Europe is using DITA, and there are very good reasons for your company to use it too.
We would love to make a case for using DITA in your company. If you’re interested to know more about DITA, then contact us for a free consultation.
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