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One of the principal reasons for adopting a DITA CCMS, like easyDITA, is its ability to easily publish the same content to various media formats without the author being required to maintain individual formatting styles for each media. This is possible because the underlying file format for easyDITA is XML. XML emphasizes the structure of the content, not the form. This is a critical difference from other formats like Word docs or HTML. DITA was designed to support technical documentation where maintaining a consistent content structure across various delivery media is a requirement. So, how does that work?

Separation of Content From Formatting

In easyDITA, content is created, in a familiar authoring environment, in chunks called topics. These topics fit into three main types, Concept, Task and Reference. Each topic is a standalone XML file. To create a document, the various required topics are created and then linked together with a map. When the map is published the various topics and their associated metadata are assembled and delivered to the final output tool. That tool (known as the DITA Open Toolkit or DITA OT) has plug-ins that have been configured to apply formatting for the various media types. easyDITA has the DITA OT as part of its workflow and it is preconfigured for a variety of media including PDF and HTML. In addition, there are connectors to publish to other media types like WordPress and MindTouch. Additional media like SharePoint, slides and other formats can be supported with plug-ins.

The formatting resides in these plug-ins and is pre-configured with Javascript and CSS, etc. This formatting remains consistent regardless of the content being published. This system helps maintain the order of topics that create a doc regardless of how they are delivered. They can also be set up to automatically create linked tables of contents (on a documentation site for example). When you are publishing large amounts of complex documentation, this separation of authoring from formatting is a huge time saver, while maintaining the integrity of the document structure and appearance.

An Example: A WordPress Documentation Portal

To understand how this works let’s look at the easyDITA documentation website, This is built on a free open-sourced WordPress theme we created specifically for online documentation delivery. When a document like a tutorial is written, it consists of a set of topics that may include an explanation of what you are going to learn (Concept topic type), then a numbered list of actions with expected results (Task topic), and a standardized warning not to do something that might break something (Reference topic). These are linked in easyDITA with a map and the map is published.

To publish to your pre-configured WordPress site, you simply select your map and hit publish, then select the WordPress Connector and your tutorial is published to your WordPress docs site with an accompanying table of contents driven by the Map structure. Any formatting resides in the WP theme, not in the document.

Now Publish the Same Content Into A PDF

Want a print version? Go to your publishing options, choose the DITA OT and select the plugin for PDF output. The plugin has been pre-configured with a template that may display branding or a background image, colors and fonts, etc. Formatting can be customized by easyDITA, by your team, or by your information architecture consultants. Publish the exact same tutorial that you just published to WP and out comes a properly formatted PDF with a consistent look and style determined by your brand requirements.

You’ve just published the same content to two completely different media, with appropriate formatting for each media, in minutes. And your writers and content managers did not spend any additional time formatting for each publish. Given that studies show tech writers, using legacy systems like Word, spend as much as 50% of their time formatting documents, we can see a measuable savings from creating and publishing with easyDITA.

Now imagine a procedure in that tutorial has changed. With easyDITA you would simply update the topic containing that procedure and republish the map to your various media, replacing the old versions, wherever they appear.

This can be done in a very granular manner. Example: the number of a part has changed and that part number is referenced in many locations. That part number can be replaced, in every instance, automatically, because it only resides in one place in the easyDITA database and it is linked within the topics it resides in as a content reference (conref). You simply update the topic and republish all the versions and the content changes uniformly across every instance of that part number.

Multi-channel Publishing Will Change the Way You Utilize Content

This description only touches the surface of what structured content is capable of in a business or organization. easyDITA offers the ability to publish to existing and emerging digital formats including text, audio, video, images, charts and more, with each displaying properly formatted content for each media type. The ability to manage updates, changes, and errors globally, with the ability replace every instance of that change with a few clicks, inherently raises the quality of your documentation, brings accurate up to date information to your customer base, and ensures that your current documentation will be adaptable to new publishing environments.

Martin Edic

Martin is a writer and marketer who specializes in creating content for delivery online via the web and mobile. Former Jorsek Employee.
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