I recently started working with a client that will be using the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) for their content design, authoring and publishing. When this client informed me that they wanted to create content components that will be reusable, easy to maintain, and search I knew that using DITA would be a wise choice. It also occurred to me that while many on our technical team were aware of DITA, they have not used it before. So, as a primer I decided to write a brief synopsis on DITA just to get the ball rolling!
DITA, which was originally developed by IBM is an open standard that describes the architecture for creating and managing information. DITA framework separates the content from the formatting, this allows for a more streamlined content creation process, and simpler ways of publishing to new technology platforms such as mobile devices. Through the donation by IBM DITA is no owned and maintained by OASIS, where volunteers who are experts in information continue to evolve the framework. As an XML-based, end-to-end architecture for authoring, producing, and delivering technical information, DITA consists of a set of design principles for creating “information-typed” modules at a topic level and for using that content in delivery modes for all types of systems that contain content.
The Problem that DITA Solves
DITA is a framework that allows content to be easily reused or repurposed. By leveraging XML DITA enables you to write and store your content so you can manage it like an asset. XML (eXtensible Markup Language) enables your content to be intelligent, versatile, manageable, and portable. DITA content can be published to (and fully branded) PDF, HTML, RTF, PowerPoint, and mobile while improving consistency, quality, and usability on all content by: streamlining your content creation process; increasing the quality of your content by standardizing it; content reuse, publishing to multiple formats; and makes efficient use of your content saving time and money.
The Purpose of DITA
The knowledge stored in your documentation has value. Anything that has value to the organization can be treated as an asset. Creating and then leaving that information inside a Word or PowerPoint file severely limits what you can do with it, and whatever you can do, you have to use manual ways to do it. Creating documents with traditional tools in static files is an inefficient way of writing, updating, sharing, and managing your information. DITA is an overall approach that solves that inefficiency.
DITA XML organizes your content into topics. However, not all XML does this, but DITA has a core set of topic types that can be used to align content to a specific topic type, this creates highly usable content. XML separates content from format, making it portable and versatile. Words and format are no longer combined and can be managed and updated independently. XML allows the content to be transformed into many other formats. DITA XML provides a structure and flexibility in its architecture that enables content to be delivered in multiple outputs and channels.
What DITA Is Not
- DITA is not a particular tool. Many different tools allow you to author in DITA. In fact, selecting your tool set is part of the process of DITA adoption.
- DITA is not a template, although authors often use templates to make it even faster and easier to write.
- DITA is not a style guide, although authors certainly benefit from one, with or without DITA content.
There is also a theme of modularity in DITA:
Modularity of content: topics, which contain reusable “modules” of content, and maps, which organize topics into publication structures (books, Web sites, collections, etc.)
Modularity of vocabulary: A common base plus an unbounded set of additional specialized vocabulary modules that can be combined as needed to satisfy local markup requirements.
Modularity of processing: Processing that is defined in terms of the vocabulary modules using normal software modularity features (plugins, classes, separate implementation module files, etc.). There is a natural alignment between DITA vocabulary modules and software components that support the processing of that vocabulary. For example, the DITA Open Toolkit uses a plugin model that makes it easy to add support for new vocabulary modules by implementing plugins that extend the base processing to handle processing specific to a new vocabulary module.
The modularity and flexibility of the DITA architecture including its body of supporting tools makes this a very flexible architecture for creating reusable content components. I would encourage everyone if you were going to use DITA bring in a qualified and experience resource as well as educate yourself (if you don’t already know DITA) on the DITA architecture before starting any DITA initiative.
More on the OASIS DITA Framework can be found here: OASIS Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) TC | OASIS (oasis-open.org)