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New Challenge: Learning DITA. “I DITA know that!”
2014, Q4 (August 19, 2014)
By Lisa Logan, Chapter Member

Editor's note: Watch for the chapter's DITA workshop, scheduled for October 18th, 2014. Subscribe to the chapter mailing list for details.

DITA bird logo Okay, I know that title is corny. But I think a little silliness is needed when you cover a complicated subject. At least right now, DITA is a huge challenge for me, and I’m sure it is for others.

Tech writing has evolved into something quite different from what it was ten years ago when I first contemplated entering the field. It used to be that an English major and mastery of a style guide was enough to land a tech writing job, but these days employers are looking for technical expertise to go along with good writing and editing. I perused many of the job listings and found that knowledge of structured authoring and DITA are top preferences among employers in the technical writing field. So that’s why I set about to write a series of brief articles explaining what I’ve learned about DITA and how much I need to know in order to land a tech writing job.

I started my DITA journey by reading three books that I bought recently:
Much of my information comes from these three books and Nathalie Laroche’s helpful blog eXtreme Technical Writing (http://www.extremetechwriting.com). I’ll add to my reading list later on as I learn more about DITA. Also, I’m hoping to gather information from the online DITA community. I’ll list how to find these resources in a later post.

Until then, I’ll post a few basics that I’ve learned about DITA so far. By the way, if you’re a tech writer who can recommend any other resources, please do! I’d love to hear from you.

Let’s begin with the question: What is DITA?

DITA stands for Darwin Information Typing Architecture. It’s an XML authoring methodology that uses minimalism and task-oriented topic writing to better organize and disseminate topics into a major work or across several different works. In other words, it makes topic writing easier, more flexible, and transferable. DITA allows easy linking and reuse of written information across several deliverables.

Chapter 1 of DITA Best Practices claims “Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) was designed specifically for writing, organizing, and linking topic-based content.” So what I take that to mean is DITA makes technical writing easier to edit and organize large manuals among groups. If you break up a huge manual into small digestible pieces or “topics,” you can then easily edit each piece, reorganize, and reuse the information for that manual and future manuals that contain similar “topics.”

In the past, technical writers had to copy and paste similar topic info from one manual to another which caused more errors. Now, with structured authoring, those chunks of info or “topics” can be easily transferred or reused from manual to manual.

In the next article, I’ll describe the three different topic types of DITA: task, conceptual, and reference.

Lisa Logan can be reached at lisalogan9 at gmail dot com. End of article.

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