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Note: This is the Intro to a series on DITA basics

 

Who is this guy?

I am a tech marketer. I am not particularly techy, write no code, can get around in WordPress but definitely not into the hard core pool of arcane acronyms and production apps that my co-workers swim in effortlessly. What I do well is get up to speed with new technology quickly with the goal of being able to simply communicate about it in a compelling way. I always want to answer the question “why should I care?” for my readers. I’ve done this with commercial food service enterprise software, social media monitoring software, cardiac safety methodology in human drug trials, and other equally specialized subjects. It has been a very interesting way to make a living.

Why Should I care?

As this is written (March 2016), I am four days into DITA but from a different point of view than many visiting this site. I’ve been a writer for a very long time and have written everything imaginable—ad copy, how-to books, video and documentary scripts, marketing materials, even a novel; but when asked what I write I always said “everything but technical writing”. Not because I had anything against it but because I always saw it as a specialized discipline with its own rules. Though I see big changes in the style of tech doc writers, with a move towards a more natural ‘voice’, I still think it is a specialized kind of writing.

Which brings me to DITA. I had no idea such a thing existed before I started talking to Patrick Bosek, one of the founders of easyDITA, about his marketing. It just wasn’t on my radar. But as a writer, even a non-tech writer, it should have been because I generate a lot of content and I have dealt over and over again with the issues that a DITA platform resolves quite elegantly. For example, version control:

  • Copy and Paste errors.
  • Emailing docs around for review and approval.
  • Relying on track changes and trying to interpret people’s feedback.
  • Finding something within a bunch of documents that you know is there somewhere because you vaguely remember writing it.

Headaches, in other words. Headaches that all writers (including, believe it or not, fiction writers) cope with and curse silently about. So, when I started working with Jorsek (creators of easyDITA) at the beginning of March, I began to dive into DITA—and I’m liking what I see.

I can’t market something that I don’t think is really useful, beneficial or just an order of magnitude improvement over existing models. The move to structured content is all of these things, especially for writers and content developers. It deals with the nightmares detailed above but it goes pretty far beyond that with its ability to type things by the kind of content they contain. Understanding that distinction is where the lightbulb went on for me. And where I started getting past the newbie stage.

While I still have the advantage of my relative ignorance (and yes, I consider ‘beginner mind’ an advantage at this stage!), I’m going to explore a little about DITA from that perspective. Think of this as a mini-series on the basics of structured content with DITA. I hope it will help others trying to get up to speed with their understanding. Please feel free to share your experiences if you’ve been in a similar place…

This is Part One of a series. Visit the Series Page Here.

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