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Well-organized content means people can find it. When they can find it, it’s actually useful. Your organization’s life-blood is useful content. 

Content is a single idea or collection of ideas communicated through a consumable medium. Be it video, text, audio, or any emerging format, the purpose of content is to present ideas. As time passes, we see content continually evolve in tandem with its presentation mediums. From cave paintings to conversational AI, content presentation has always had one thing in common: making ideas meaningful. 

Modern technologies have been pivotal influencers of changes in content development and presentation. An important modern distinguishing feature of well-developed content is making sure it’s understood by human beings and computers. While that might seem obvious, the ways we need to do this will sometimes conflict with what we’re used to and what we’re comfortable with.

Unstructured vs. Structured Content

Unstructured content is what most people think of when initially hearing the word content. Developed in a linear fashion, it could be a document with interconnected ideas that posit a unified theme in start-to-finish order. You know, like how you’re reading this blog post. Well written linear content makes solid connections that a reader can easily grasp, while poorly written linear content is confusing and the reader is left trying to piece it together. 

This type of content, while conventionally easy to understand for human beings, isn’t so simple for computers to parse through. They lack the capacity to discern communicative characteristics that make human beings, well, human beings. Computers need explicitly defined structural rules to deduce meaning from content. 

Hence, structured content is different and an invaluable asset to content organization. Structured content is created within the parameters of a standard, this way it can be processed by machines. Created by human beings for machine consumption and understanding, structured content is infinitely processable by these systems because it abides by a pre-defined standard. 

DITA XML is the gold standard in structured content and it will make your content creation, organization, and deployment much easier.

DITA XML In A Nutshell

Created by IBM for developing technical documentation and later handed over to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), DITA can’t be adequately covered in a few paragraphs, but we’ll review the most salient points about the standard. 

After breaking down unstructured content and structured content, it’s smart to look at some basic structural aspects of DITA XML that will aid your content organization:

    • Components: Remember, unstructured content is developed in a linear fashion, but structured content is developed in components. Each component addresses a single subject, is self-contained, and can exist on its own. In DITA, individual components are put together to form a longer-form content like a document. Each part of a car exists separately from the vehicle, but when assembled, they make the final product. So it goes with content components being put together to build a document. 
    • Maps: Something has to keep components in order, thereby making the content created with those components meaningful and referenceable. This is what DITA maps are for. In a library of content components, maps provide a sense of order to them as applied to the documents they create. Aptly named, maps serve the same purpose as your smartphone GPS would. They give directions from place to place, with detailed information guiding you along the way. Think of that list of turns, merges, and exits as components in a DITA map. The order of the directions are essential to get from your home to Disneyworld. In the same way, the order of components within a map is essential to constructing a helpful document. 
    • Reuse: One of the most useful parts of DITA XML is reuse. When components are written, they’re written in one place and can be published everywhere they need to be. If you have to write 30 exams, think of each question as a component. If you wanted to change the bonus question in all 30 exams, reuse allows you to edit that original bonus question component and the changes will populate in every test. Tons more convenient than copy-pasting a new question in 30 separate tests, right? That’s the convenience of reuse. 

Componentizing, mapping, and reuse are just a few of the things that make DITA XML a no-brainer when it comes to organizing your content library. Developing content in a DITA mindset might be difficult at first, but once you’ve gotten a handle on how to build content as components, you’ll see just how powerful the DITA XML standard can be. 

You’ve only scratched the surface, too! If you want to know more about how the features of DITA XML can work wonders for your company’s content organization, we’re here to help. Talk to one of our Customer Success Managers today and learn more about what DITA can do for you.

While not spinning linguistic yarns, Tim enjoys a peculiar existential balance. With a refined palate for Champagne that's equally attuned to pizza, he's also a loyal champion of bees, the trees, and inseams never past the knees.
Tim Ludwig