Concepts are nice, but being able to do something is nicer. Not to mention much more useful. We talk about DITA a lot and now it’s time to look at what this tool actually does that makes it live up to the hype.
We’ve touched on how it’s important to know the difference between benefits and capabilities, but now we want to continue that conversation to the next level. Rather than talking about benefits and capabilities broadly across businesses, we want to show you something real. You’re here because you need a tool that works for you.
In order to find a tool that works, you need to know exactly what it can do. Then you can take those capabilities and apply them to the unique needs of your business as you see fit. No sales pitches. No nebulous promises about how much smoother your business will run or easier your life will be. We’re not Instagram influencers touting pound-shaving smoothies. We’re here to show you exactly what DITA can do.
Because it’s what DITA does that reveals how it’s beneficial to your business.
Structured Content Built For The Future
Since DITA is an XML standard, the content you develop within that standard abides by its inherent structure, and structured content is built to last.
When your content is created according to the DITA standard, this gives your content the structure that’s intelligible to computers. As content development and delivery methods have evolved with technology, our content strategy has needed to evolve as well.
Content is commonly being thought of and developed in a linear fashion, like writing a document. With linear writing, authors interlace ideas that connect with one another to produce a theme between an introduction, body, and conclusion. You might even recall the grammar school term main idea. The main idea is supported by the rest of a document; this is unstructured content.
The way we use language to communicate is rife idiosyncrasies that we intuitively interpret. But, these eccentricities are difficult for machines to process. As time goes on, our interactions with machines will only increase; thus, it’s prudent to develop content with computers in mind.
Structured content follows a predetermined standard such that it’s processable and understood by machines. DITA is capable of bringing structure to your content because the standard was developed with machine processability as a defining feature. Shifting to structured content does, however, come with some homework because the way machines understand content is different than the way human beings are used to piecing it together.
1) Turn Your Content Into Components
Machine processable structured content is built differently. Rather than linear documents, structured content in DITA XML creates content components. These components are self-contained topics that can exist without depending on surrounding content. With componentized content, each self-contained piece can be used, shifted around, reconfigured, and applied wherever needed.
Imagine a publishable document as a recipe. Each ingredient is a component that’s viable on its own and makes up the various parts in a given recipe. It’s the same with a structured content document composed of individual components. Now imagine having to make 20 different recipes. Sure, each recipe is different as a whole, but several individual ingredients can be shared across those recipes.
2) Reuse Your Content Anywhere, Fast
Copy-pasting all these instances would be time-consuming. Content reuse allows a component to be written once and reused everywhere. If all 20 recipes require a teaspoon of salt, that component only needs to be written one time, then can be easily reused in every recipe it’s called for.
DITA is also capable of cutting time used for making changes. With content components, any edits that need to be made need only be made one time and those changes populate everywhere that component is being used.
Like, when you find a mistake and realize those 20 recipes call for one tablespoon of salt rather than a teaspoon, it’d be pretty annoying to go into each recipe and manually make that change 20 times.
With component content, that change only needs to be made in one place and the changes will be applied to every recipe that component is used in. Component content allows quick, efficient reuse, saving you valuable time in the creative and editorial processes.
3) Make Your Content Findable With Metadata Done Right
We’ve touched on DITA XML being capable of structure built for machine processability and content developed for easy reuse, adaptation, and change. Even with a content library that’s so well organized it brings a tear to the eye, it’s not very helpful if that content is difficult to find. That’s where rich metadata comes into play.