This is a CCMS developed to support XML content.
Introduction to XML
XML is a mark-up language like HTML. However, the tags <b>bold text</b> in HTML describe the format of the content between them. Whereas XML tags describe the content between them <Book Title>The Wizard of Oz</Book Title>.
A set of XML tags is called a Schema; you can create your own schema or adopt a shared standard. There are standards to represent almost any type of data, whether recipes, musical scores, articles, books, or anything else. They can share tools and techniques when a community exists around an XML standard.
Lastly, because XML separates content from appearance, XML tags identify what content is rather than how content should look. As a result, a single XML document can be published in multiple formats.
DITA stands for Darwin Typing Information Architecture. It is an open-source XML standard most often used to create technical documentation.
Why is it called DITA? Darwin because DITA uses the principles of inheritance and specialization pioneered by the naturalist Charles Darwin. The rest is self-explanatory.
DITA uses topics; a topic is a unit of information that can be read in isolation or inserted into a larger document. To link together topics, DITA uses a DITAmap file. A DITAmap file is simply an XML file that acts as a table of contents linking a series of topics.
The term ‘topic’ is generic. DITA allows, however, the generic Topic to be adapted to represent more specific structures. The basic DITA specification includes Concept, Task, and, Reference. These content units are more specific versions of the generic Topic. They can be handled with special rules if you want. But if you don’t have special rules, they can also be treated more generically as topics.
Benefits of a common vocabulary
A common vocabulary means that users can share information, tools, and the code used to handle the content. For example, if you use a DITA-based format, several editing tools can be used. Tools used to process the content can also be shared. For example, DITA includes the code and stylesheets needed to create PDF, HTML, and other output formats. As a result, new output types will appear, and other DITA-based solutions can use the existing tools to support the new format.
DITA Open Toolkit
For DITA, the community provides the DITA Open Toolkit. This toolkit includes a variety of transforms that can take DITA and render it to HTML, PDF, and other formats. It also provides an extensible architecture. For example, if you customize DITA, you can create a plugin so that DITA solutions can handle the specific requirements.
DITA Open Toolkit plugins can configure editing tools, extend the rules of DITA, or modify the included stylesheets. Because all proprietary extensions are mapped to more generic DITA structures, any DITA tool can process content. For example, if you use a DITA-based vocabulary that defines a ‘chapter,’ systems that do not understand ‘chapter’ can always treat the encoded content as a more generic ‘topic.’
So, XML is a set of rules for creating a particular language to encode your content. Meanwhile, DITA is a language able to be extended to more specific uses that still share a common grammar. DITA provides a base set of stylesheets for rendering your content in various formats. Many XML tools exist to process DITA documents, providing extension points so you can adapt them as needed.
DITA differs from other standards in that it uses a Topic-based approach to authoring; each Topic should be self-contained in that it makes sense on its own. These topics fall into three established categories:
- Concept – overview of what something does.
- Task – information on how to do something.
- Reference –information on how to check something.
Once created, the topics are assembled for a particular publication using a “DITAmap,” that defines their order. The modular authoring approach and self-contained nature of topics enable them to be easily reused across multiple publications.
This is particularly useful when companies produce products that share components because aspects of one manual are easily incorporated into others. Obviously, this saves on authoring time but also offers huge savings where content is translated into multiple languages. For example, a new product manual may be able to reuse 60% of the topics already created; thus, translation/localization costs are instantly reduced by 60%.
DITA content can be output via an open-source publishing engine called the DITA Open Toolkit – this enables the XML content to be output in multiple formats, including; PDF, XHTML, HTML Help, JAVA Help, OpenDocument (ODT), and Rich Text Format (RTF).
Some additional benefits of DITA
XML is the choice for documenting products with long lifespans because it is not dependent upon any single authoring application. A ship or train, for example, can be expected to be in use for twenty-plus years; can you open and read a document created in Word Perfect twenty years ago? XML documents can also be printed as flat text files and read and understood by humans.
Easy to perform global updates
With a modular XML system such as DITA, a single Topic, for example, a warning or safety notice, might be referenced by multiple publications. Once the Topic is updated, all publications using that Topic can be updated simultaneously — there is no risk of updates being missed because of a manual process.
Lower cost of localization
Because DITA Topics are reused, only the Topics that have changed need to be localized when publications are updated. As a result, Bluestream has seen savings of as much as 60% of the localization budget.
Easier to find content.
DITA uses metadata, which can be used when searching for content.
Easier to share information
Because XML is not ‘tied’ to a single application, it is much easier to share content across systems.