Again in 2004, IBM created an XML customary to be universally relevant to technical writing. They known as it the Darwin Info Typing Structure—DITA. We aren’t right here to go too in-depth on what DITA is and the way it works, however for an in depth look, take a look at this text: What’s DITA and Why Ought to You Care?
For a refresher, I’ll borrow from the aforementioned article. DITA works like this:
“You develop your content material in DITA subjects, use DITA maps to specify which subjects go into which deliverables, then course of these maps to DITA output codecs to generate your remaining deliverables.”
DITA has advanced since then and, whereas it hasn’t foundationally modified, its capabilities have definitely grown. We’re going to have a look at a couple of of the methods DITA XML has grown, why they’re essential, and the way these capabilities are useful.
DITA 1.3 & past simply technical documentation
In 2015, OASIS authorized DITA 1.3. Being the newest model of the usual, it added some issues that DITA 1.2 lacked. Primarily, the next:
- Added the troubleshooting matter kind
- Delivered the DITA specification in three packages: Base, Technical Content material, All Inclusive
This issues as a result of DITA was born for technical writing and has been largely utilized in that side for many of its existence. The usual has grown extra inclusive, but it stays considered as coupled (more-or-less) with technical documentation.
Whereas technical documentation nonetheless makes up a substantial amount of DITA use circumstances, there are others which have discovered the capabilities of DITA XML helpful. When DITA 1.2 launched new specializations for coaching and equipment, it signaled some new methods to implement DITA throughout totally different industries.
Let’s speak about studying assist and coaching documentation for a second. Technical documentation can have many various functions, however studying and coaching supplies on complicated technical merchandise have to be extra accessible to the audiences consuming them, whoever these audiences could also be. In any case, not everybody consuming content material about technical merchandise is a topic knowledgeable, technical author, or superior person. In reality, they’re in all probability nearer to the opposite finish of that person spectrum.
DITA’s all-inclusive version was constructed for content material duties that run the gamut. There are particular components of DITA XML that aren’t new, however the best way they have an effect on studying and coaching content material opens content material up for extra various audiences.
Viewers particular filtering
Recognized within the DITA world as conditional processing, with the ability to filter content material for various audiences is a characteristic that drastically helps content material builders construct personalised studying and coaching content material.
For content material builders, conditional processing offers a technique to convey comparable however distinct content material to totally different audiences. Consider it as online game walkthroughs and tutorials. The aim and objectives of the online game don’t change, however a walkthrough for knowledgeable gamers versus newbie gamers could have distinct variations. Conditional processing permits the walkthrough content material to be written in the identical place, then conditionalized to ship to both an knowledgeable or newbie viewers.
The online game walkthrough instance is an easy show of leisure studying and coaching content material. It’s not troublesome to see how conditional processing can be utilized to develop extra complicated studying content material for various audiences studying a spread of various product capabilities.
This enters into the realm of buyer expertise, too. Conditional processing is commonly utilized in customer-facing supplies. With an advanced product, you wouldn’t hand a person handbook meant for engineers to a model new person, proper? Personalised content material experiences on your customers are paramount to offering for his or her distinctive wants studying wants. This explainer video breaks it down additional.
Content material reuse
The DITA XML declare to fame, the creme de la creme of structured content material growth, content material reuse taught us how inefficient, time-consuming, and inaccurate copy-pasting is. To make use of the online game instance once more, when content material is comparable, with some viewers distinctions, reuse is in control of the similarities the place conditionalization is in control of the variations. Determine 1 exhibits content material reuse in motion.
Determine 1: Content material reuse in motion
DITA XML is topic-based authoring and every matter can exist independently of others. All of those subjects or—parts—are saved inside a element content material administration system (CCMS) to prepare them. The diagram above illustrates two items of content material sharing three subjects between them. Relatively than writing these two items of content material from scratch or copy-pasting the shared subjects, DITA permits you to construct paperwork in maps.
Every map references the subjects they share and the subjects are reused from the bottom matter in your CCMS. From there, if any adjustments have to be made within the Introduction matter—as an illustration—they want solely be made in a single place and the adjustments will populate wherever the subject is referenced. As I prefer to say, write in a single place, replace in every single place. For extra on content material reuse, this explainer video serves up additional particulars
Future proof your content material
XML isn’t going wherever. Fairly the alternative. We’ve seen this with the expansion of DITA from getting used solely in technical content material to a myriad of various industries and content material varieties. DITA 1.3 sought to solidify this by making the DITA XML customary accessible and efficient for content material in a larger variety of industries and for a larger variety of use circumstances.
That’s the good factor about requirements. They be sure that everybody utilizing them is enjoying by the identical guidelines. Since DITA XML is rising, spreading, and strengthening as time passes, it stands to purpose that there’s a robust future forward on your content material—be it technical, instructional, or one other DITA specialization that hasn’t been developed but.
As a result of DITA is an open customary and it’s maintained by the Group for the Development of Structured Info Requirements (OASIS), the adjustments to DITA are methodical, clear, and promote stability moderately than change for the sake of change. That’s why we’ve solely seen DITA 1.0-1.3 since its inception.
Ultimately, what we’ve seen occurring with DITA XML isn’t a lot that it’s altering, however influencing content material outdoors of technical documentation. The place technical writers had been as soon as among the many few to know the worth of the DITA customary, the usual has advanced to be extra trade inclusive.
So, positive, the capabilities of DITA XML aren’t essentially new, however the utility of these capabilities are actually out there to industries that had been as soon as completely blind to the facility that DITA XML might have of their content material.