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You’re in a staff meeting and the documentation manager is giving a report of the advances his team has achieved using a new technology. He mentions that the team has gone through a lot of effort and pain to implement something called the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA). He talks about return on investment, improvements in consistency and quality, reuse of information, and the list appears to be endless. Yawn.

Or is it truly as dull as you think initially? Let’s look at some of the main points of the architecture that caught your colleague’s eye.

DITA supports reusable content that provides end-to-end consistency ­– When you create marketing or sales collateral you look through the user documentation or have one of your colleague’s writers send you information about the product specifications and features. To make sure the collateral is ready for product launch, you make the request 2 months before the product launch, prepare your materials, and ship them to the printer. It took a couple of weeks for your team to integrate that content into your nice, glossy brochures, and 2 weeks before launch you’re all set to send it out to the marketing team. In between the time you received the information and the time your brochures were printed, development had to change or scale back the features or specifications. Oops! Need to rework the brochures. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have shortened the window that opened your collateral to churn? DITA can help with that. In fact, done correctly, changes that happen in the source done by the technical publication team is automatically reflected in the information you reuse.

DITA minimizes your collateral costs – Reusing content that has already been created does cut the cost of creating your collaterals. Copy-and-paste operations do take time and are error-prone, even if you don’t run into the problem of keeping current as outlined earlier. Using the information from a central repository using DITA’s reuse features means fewer points of failure.

DITA helps implement part of your content strategy – A content strategy should encompass all of the information about your product. Building your information workflow on the architecture will ease implementing a corporate-wide content strategy that provides a single source of truth for your product.

DITA helps you use your development resources more effectively – Writers write. Designers design. Because DITA separates the information from the presentation, the folks writing the copy do what they do well; write. They don’t spend time trying to make it look good on the page because that task belongs to others – designers. If the time comes that the page design needs changing, that can be done independent of the information currently in development. The words are placed on the page design in a separate process. Less angst for everyone.

DITA simplifies the translation process – In a global market, all information needs translation, including marketing materials. Nothing will minimize your translation costs if you have information in graphic images. However, you can make translation of your information less expensive through DITA because:

  • The content is in a non-proprietary format.
  • Reuse of content will minimize the amount of content to translate.
  • Formatting is not part of the equation so translations can be done and formatting applied later in the process.
  • Changed content can be easily identified by translation tools, thus minimizing the translation on changed source to only what has changed.
  • The architecture encourages minimalistic writing practices so there is less to translate even without reuse.

Does this explain why your colleagues are excited about this technology? Have them help you look deeper into the architecture and help you understand how it works.

About the Author

Julio Vazquez is currently an information architect with SDI. Julio is a key principle who has designed and implemented publication solutions for various SDI clients. He uses his knowledge of technical communications, information architecture, previous publication experience, and investigatory skills to determine information solutions that best fit a client’s needs.

In his previous career with IBM, he was on the corporate team that defined DITA and wrote the first article on the language in April of 2002. He has presented at STC-Carolina, DITA East and DocTrain West and DITA North America on various topics. His first book on DITA, Practical DITA, presents an approach to understanding how to write using DITA from the ground up. He has also published a paper about indexing in the Center for Information Design Management (CIDM) Best Practices Newsletter and is a contributor to the Yahoo! DITA User’s Group, a founder of the RTP DITA User’s Group and a staunch DITA advocate.

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Key Concepts:

dita, make your business case, single-sourcing

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