Presented at DocTrain East 2007 by Bob Doyle, DITA Users -- This introduction to XML Authoring will acquaint you with over fifty tools aimed at structuring content with DITA. They are not just DITA-compliant authoring tools (editors) for writers. They also include content management systems (CMS), translation management systems (TMS), and dynamic publishing engines that fully support DITA. You will also need to know about tools that convert legacy documents to DITA and help to design stylesheets for DITA deliverables. The best DITA tools for technical communicators implement the DITA standard while hiding all the complexity of the underlying XML (eXtensible Markup Language).
As a tech writer and not a tech, you should be able to forget about XML - except to know that you are using it (DITA is XML) and that it consists of named content elements (or components) with attributes. You need to know enough about the content elements so you can reference (conref) them for reuse. You need to know about their attributes so you can filter on them for conditional processing. And you should appreciate that because components are uniquely identifiable they lend themselves perfectly to automated dynamic assembly using a publishing engine.
We will describe how you can get started with structured writing without knowing XML or installing anything.
The promise of topic-based structured authoring is not simply better documentation. It is the creation of mission-critical information for your organization, written with a deep understanding of your most important audiences, that can be repurposed to multiple delivery channels and localized for multilingual global markets. You are not just writing content, you are preparing the information deliverables that enhance the value of your organization in all its markets.
To do that well, you must understand the latest tools in structured writing that are revolutionizing corporate information systems - today in documentation but tomorrow throughout the enterprise, from external marketing to internal human resources. Whether you are trying to push a new product into a new market or are “onboarding” a new employee, the need for high quality information to educate the customer or train the new salesperson is a challenge for technical communicators. You need to think outside the docs!
The key idea behind Darwin Information Typing Architecture is to create content in small chunks or modules called topics. A topic is the right size when it can stand alone as meaningful information. Topics are then assembled into documents using DITA maps, which are hierarchical lists of pointers or links to topics. The pointers are called “topicrefs” (for topic references).
Think of documents as assembled from single-source component parts. Assembly can be conditional, dependent on properties or metadata “tags” you attach to a topic. For example, the “audience” property might be “beginner” or “advanced.”
At a still finer level of granularity, individual elements of a topic can also be assigned property tags for conditional assembly. More importantly, a topic element can be assigned a unique ID that makes it a content component reusable in other topics.
As you will learn, DITA is a leading technology for “component content management,” which multiplies the value of your work. You need to leverage DITA and structured content to multiply your income.