Don’t we all love acronyms? Well, maybe not always. But the DITA acronym, when explained and grasped, really encapsulates the core strengths of this model for information organization, access, and distribution. But it took a little head scratching to clarify the meaning. I’ll break it down from my ‘newbie’ perspective.
The first letter in the acronym refers to Charles Darwin, the 19th century evolutionary theorist who changed our understanding of how natural systems adapt to changing conditions. ‘Darwin’ in the DITA world refers to its evolutionary ability to build on existing taxonomies, adding elements as required by evolving needs, while keeping them in historical context with their precursors.
This one is a bit tricky to grasp and I’m still working on it.
The next two letters of the DITA acronym travel together as a phrase. Just to demonstrate my true ‘newbie’ status, I initially thought this had something to do with keyboarding (typing in the old school sense). It does not—and this is important. It refers to DITA’s ability to have content within a document defined and sorted by Type. ‘Topic’ is the top level Type and it is used to identify the nature of a subject matter within a document. You can further classify by more specific types of information like Concepts (what is this about and what will it tell me?), Tasks (first fill with water, then place on stove…instructions or processes) and References (information, often seen as lists or diagrams like parts views, specifications, etc.). There are many ways to segment even further but the basic concept of Information Typing lies in this classification system.
The engine that makes this Information Typing so useful and so different is the underlying Architecture that controls your information in DITA. It is centralized, with all your documents living in one database. Because they exist as XML documents they are machine-readable and can be published to multiple formats.
DITA is searchable in ways unimaginable with docs that are siloed in things like Word docs or PDFs. This searchability is driven by the ‘Type’ assigned to each piece of content. These topic types can be assembled from a variety of sources without any copy and pasting. Need Parts Lists for all the models of your gizmo? You can pull them out of all your stuff in DITA, regardless of where they reside.
This architecture is far more powerful than my simplistic description can encompass in a brief article. However, understanding how centralized access to ‘Typed’ information can change the way we work is the first step to unlocking the power of DITA. The next step is understanding the fundamental difference between unstructured and structured content.
This is Part Two of a series. Visit the Series Page Here.