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Why You Need the Advanced DITA Workshop
2016, Q2 (April 05, 2016)
By Lisa Logan, STC Carolina Chapter Member

Lisa Logan
Lisa Logan
If you’ve been looking for a job lately, you’ve probably noticed many employers are requiring experience in DITA and topic-based authoring. Being a technical writer without knowledge of DITA is like being a wallflower at the dance. Don’t wilt on the sidelines and watch your colleagues pass you in the fast lane to higher paying jobs. You can probably bet that in most of the job interviews you go on, DITA will be part of the conversation. It’s a good idea to get a working knowledge of DITA and DITA-aware authoring tools like oXygen.

Last year, I attended the first DITA workshop put on by STC Carolina, and I’m glad I did. I came away from the workshop with enough know-how to answer questions in an interview. That workshop covered the basics of DITA, plus a bit more. I learned the elements and attributes of the three DITA topic types: task, concept, and reference. These topics are structured hierarchically in a tree-like outline called a DITA map. The DITA map shows you what will be included in the output of the whole publication. In the workshop, I learned how to write topics using tags and put those topics in a map. If I had a job interview after the workshop, I would be able to answer questions about DITA and structured authoring.

And the help didn’t stop there. After the workshop, I could post questions to the “sandbox” website and email the instructor with questions about topics that stumped me.

The instructor, Larry Kunz, is the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. He’s a nationally renowned DITA expert who has been working with DITA since its infancy at IBM. He’s an STC Fellow and recipient of the highly coveted STC President’s Award. But you’d never guess it because Larry’s not a braggart. He’s the tall quiet guy eating cookies at the snack table before an STC meeting. When Larry says something, you can bet everyone listens. His blog, Leading Technical Communication, is full of helpful advice for both beginners and veterans of technical communication. Larry was also one of my instructors at the Duke University Technical Communication Certificate program, which is popular among local employers and recruiters.

If you plan to attend the Advanced DITA Workshop in April, it’s a good idea to check out the suggested prerequisite resources.

Another benefit of attending workshops like these is… You get to meet people from all over the profession. Rack up those LinkedIn requests to connect! These additions to your network can you tell what it’s like at their job, which is helpful if you’re scouting out new job opportunities. I’ve learned a lot of do’s and don’ts from fellow attendees that have proven true in practice. Plus, you meet some great people, and, who knows, maybe a new best friend with whom you can have deep DITA conversations! Okay, DITA isn’t that exciting, but at least you can find like-minded people who may be as excited about technical communication as you are. You may even meet someone who knows someone who is looking to hire a new DITA-knowledgeable writer.

I don’t know about you, but I would like for someone to just show me how to create a simple document and to publish. That’s what Larry will be doing in the Advanced Workshop. He’ll walk us through the process of creating and publishing a DITA document. I’m also eager to learn more about conrefs, which I hear is a highly used (but also frequently misused) technique in DITA. Larry will also instruct on the use of keys, keyrefs, relationship tables, broken links and those pesky error messages you get when trying publish a DITA document.

I’m more of a visual learner, so the more someone can show me, the better. I spent months reading the popular DITA books: DITA 101, DITA Best Practices, and The DITA Style Guide. All of these are excellent guides, but starting with those will only give you book knowledge and maybe a headache. It’s something else to actually dive into DITA and start creating documents. That’s where it will all “click.” What better way to do that than to learn from a DITA expert like Larry? I hope I’ll see you at the next DITA workshop!

To learn more about the workshop, visit the DITA Workshop webpage. Additionally, you can read the recently published Profile of Larry Kunz in last week's Communique.

LISA LOGAN can be reached at lisalogan9 at gmail dot com. Read more articles by Lisa Logan. End of article.

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