We rewrote this post. For the latest version go here.
DITA includes three main topic types: Task, Concept, and Reference.
- Tasks are used to describe how to perform a procedure.
- Concepts present descriptive information so the reader can understand the background and context of a subject.
- Reference topics provide detailed facts, often in a table.
Using the easyDITA User Guide as an example, it consists of a master DITA Concept for each functional area of the software (e.g. the easyDITA Editor), followed by a series of How To Tasks that cover the operations of the software (e.g. How To Create a New DITA Topic).
A Reference topic contains a table listing the service SLAs for each level of the software.
TIP: Because we write each topic so that they stand on their own, we can reuse them in our context-sensitive online help and as How To posts on our support portal knowledge base.
The DITA standard defines how each topic type is structured. Every one contains some common elements, like Title, Prolog (for metadata like audience, category, keywords), Short Description, as well as some that are unique. Tasks, for instance, consist of a series of <step>s contained inside a <taskbody> element, which also contains tags to define prerequisite, context and result. Reference has <refbody>, for presenting information in a table.
Here is what the source code of a Task looks like:
Because every bit of DITA information is defined inside tags that identify its purpose, writers stay focused on presenting the right information at the right time. Once written, you can reuse the content even at its most granular level – a single step in a task or a cell of a table.
Topics, concepts and references can be specialized further to fit your needs. Some specializations are already built in, for instance the Learning and Training specialization, which includes information types for Learning Objectives, Learning Assessments and Learning Maps.
In addition, you can define your own information types. Manufacturers can create sub-classifications like “Parts List Reference” with special elements for part number, size, weight, etc. The new information type will inherit all the elements of its parent; you just define the specialized elements you create.