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Lessons Learned from the DITA Workshop
2014, Q4 (October 26, 2014)
By Betsy Kent, Associate Fellow

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Many of us who attended the STC Carolina DITA Workshop on October 18th, 2014, have been using DITA. We wanted a refresher course — reminders of best practices and how to work more effectively in DITA. Others wanted to learn new tools and techniques to improve their chances of landing a job. A key advantage to the workshop is that it included a 90-day evaluation license for oXygen XML Editor so we can continue to practice and experiment on our own.

The STC Carolina DITA workshop more than exceeded my high expectations! Larry Kunz designed the workshop to get the participants up and running with a sound grasp on what DITA is and why we should care. Larry ably kept us busy learning all day, with discussions and hands-on exercises.

Larry focused on the advantages of using DITA, which include content reuse and enforced consistency in content formatting. In one company, tactfully unnamed, the large documentation set had a short, recurring paragraph that said, in effect, “X must always be performed before Y.” Unfortunately, the paragraph was phrased 52 different ways throughout the documentation set. Besides confusing the users, the differences increased the cost of translation. Making that one paragraph into a <conref> — a chunk of reusable content similar to a FrameMaker text inset—provides consistency to the users and a significant savings in translation costs.

In DITA, you don’t manually format the content. You insert tags to define the content. The tags define the structure of lists, steps, titles, and the like without applying the format. You can also define a tag for a frequently used phrase or product name. When Marketing decides to change the product name two days before delivery, all you need to do is redefine that one tag, and every occurrence is updated.

The tags add to the ease of use not only for writers but also for smart devices. The output can be rendered to an HTML file for a laptop or tablet and very differently for a smart phone.

My favorite takeaways? oXygen tips that will make life easier. First thing Monday morning, I moved the Element and Attribute icons to a convenient spot. Inserting tags is much faster now, and I can see which tags are valid at any point. I also learned some new tags. We’re looking forward to slapping the <wintitle> tag around the titles of windows and dialog boxes, and using the right tags around message text.

Betsy Kent can be reached at betsykentnc at gmail dot com. Read more articles by Betsy. End of article.

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