DITA stands for The Darwin Information Typing Architecture. It’s an XML data model for authoring, producing, and delivering technical information. This data model consists of a set of design principles that help to create and manage content separately from formatting. This approach allows for a more flexible content creation process. What is the purpose of DITA? What problems does DITA solve? Do technical writers really need to learn DITA? I’ll help you find answers to these questions here.
The Purpose of DITA
To store your documentation on PC inside a Word or PowerPoint file is inappropriate nowadays because it limits the ways that you can interact with these files. It also makes the content creating process sluggish. DITA is what you need if you need to:
- Make your writing process smooth.
- Increase your productivity.
- Increase the quality of your content.
However, the main purpose of DITA is to help you make your content more flexible, portable, intelligent, manageable, and versatile. Thanks to DITA, you can publish content in PDF, HTML, RTF, and other formats; you don’t need to copy and paste anything between files.
Here is what you should keep in mind before starting learning DITA:
- DITA is not a tool, but many tools support DITA and allow you to author content in DITA.
- DITA is not a template, but authors often use them to write content faster.
DITA and Technical Writing
Well, the aforementioned advantages alone should be enough for learning DITA, but I will touch upon more aspects that are useful, especially for technical writing.
- XML helps to organize your content. Thanks to DITA, you can create topics-based documentation and use them in various ways to build a manual that you need.
- DITA helps to write high-quality content. In DITA, the formatting of the content is in a separate file from the content. It allows you to focus on writing high-quality documentation. Inside your documentation, every piece of your content is stored inside tags — titles, paragraphs, ordered lists. It helps to create highly usable content and organize your topics easily just like playing with LEGO.
- It’s easy to single-source content with DITA. When content is structured in small chunks, it’s easier to create the content in different formats like PDF, HTML, ePub and the like. Moreover, DITA also allows writers to set conditions, so each user will get information in the format that suits them.
- DITA makes your content readable and concise. Thanks to DITA, you can organize your content into individual topics. It’s helpful for both writers and readers. Writers can focus on individual tasks or concepts, while readers can read the topic that they need instead of a whole manual. It maximizes the value of documentation.
As you can see, DITA is really helpful in technical writing. But how many technical writers jobs are looking for DITA experienced professionals? Well, in 2013 it was 4% according to ditawriter.com. And, of course, it’s growing. If you’re interested in what kind of companies search for such specialists here is a list of companies using DITA.
Speaking of my experience, I don’t face the situations when I need to know DITA. For writing documentation, I use ClickHelp. It’s a professional online documentation tool where you can also create topic-based content, reuse content, export your documentation in different formats like HTML5 Web Help, CHM, PDF, DOCX, DOC, RTF, EPUB and more. Unlike DITA, you don’t need to learn how to use ClickHelp, it’s user-friendly. It has many cool features that make your technical writing more productive and effective. Read my article called ‘Why I use ClickHelp’ to learn more. You can find the detailed description of ClickHelp features here: ClickHelp Overview.
So, what is the answer to the question whether technical writers need to learn DITA? My opinion is the following: learn DITA if you need it and if it’s required by your work. Don’t try to learn everything, it’s better to improve the skills that you really need to succeed in your company.