Content Management Systems and DITA (Part I)

Content Management is imperative as technical writers are required to produce more documentation more efficiently. How can DITA and Content Management Systems help? Alex Masycheff  of WritePoint gave an overview of what seems to be the newest buzzword in Technical Writing: DITA, and why it is growing in popularity for Content Management.

The average technical writer is being asked to be even more productive and efficient. What are our challenges?

  • Multiple products are coming out of the same company at the same time
  • Multiple types of documents are needed for these products
  • The deliverables for one product may be in a number of different formats
  • The same product may be sent to different markets requireing soemwhat different documentation
  • Translation of our documentation is becoming the norm as we meet internationalization requirements

How can we provide all of the above and yet maintain quality and consistency?

DITA, which stands for Darwin Information Typing Architecture, is being touted as the answer to all of the above. DITA, which is XML based, is the defined framework for structure. The basic building block of this structure is the "topic." The topic focuses on a single subject, which is stored as a single file in DITA. Since the topic is the basic building block, it can be used as a child would blocks: each block can be reused, mixed and matched, and pulled out to build different structures or documents. Topics require a different way of writing, though. A topic is not linear but is specific for type:

  • Concept: what is it
  • Task: how to do it
  • Reference: a piece of information (used in API or in writing a White Paper)

Without DITA, it is possible to make documentation fit more than one role. Conditional text, variables, inserts, and in FrameMaker,  books can be used. When the possible variations are small, it can be manageable. When working for a large company, with many different products and documentation possibilities, content management becomes imperative.

How does DITA work? Topics are kept in a single repository; each topic is a file. Topics are then chosen and strung together to make the deliverables. The same topic can appear in many products and can be used in different document types, assembled using a DITA map.

What are the benifits using DITA with a Content Management system?

  • Improves content reusability
  • Not dependent on tools such as conditional text
  • Single sourcing
  • Automation
  • Version control
  • Can be a collaboration process with different writers
  • Can be consistent with specific style sheets used by all writers

DITA does, however, require a a content management system to be able to search retrieve the necessary topics as needed, as well as a mind-set change from writing whole documents to writing individual topics.