DITA Best Practices A Roadmap for Writing, Editing, and Architecting in DITA

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2011-09-30
  • Publisher: IBM Press
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the complete, best-practice guide to implementing and using DITA: expert, 'in the trenches' advice you can't find anywhere else! Answers the crucial questions the 'official' DITA documentation doesn't cover, from 'Where do you start?' to 'How do you avoid the pitfalls?' Reflects the authors' unsurpassed experience in all facets of enterprise-scale DITA planning, deployment, and day-to-day usage. Offers practical guidance on topic-based writing, content architecture, and ensuring a quality implementation. Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) is today's most powerful toolbox for constructing information. Implementing DITA can help organizations significantly improve the value of their technical documentation. This book brings together best practices and real-world guidance for success with DITA deployment and usage. Drawing on years of experience helping organizations implement DITA, The authors answer the crucial questions the 'official' DITA documents ignore: Where do you start in implementing DITA? What should you know before you start writing? What are DITA's gotchas and pitfalls? Which DITA elements, attributes, and features should you know upfront, and which can wait? Technical writers and their managers can use this book as a complete roadmap for DITA adoption and implementation. Part 1 walks through the basics of topic-based writing, especially the importance of writing accurate, usable short descriptions. Part 2 covers more advanced topics related to content architecture, including DITA maps, linking strategies, metadata, conditional processing, and content reuse. Part 3 covers quality DITA implementations, offering crucial guidance for converting content to DITA, whether you do it in-house or utilize a third-party vendor.

Author Biography

Laura Bellamy is an Information Architect at VMware, Inc. and a technical communications instructor at University of California Santa Cruz Extension. Laura has been a long-time DITA champion, working at IBM during the adoption and proliferation of DITA. Throughout her career, she has worked on many facets of DITA implementation and now dreams in XML.

Michelle Carey is a technical editor at IBM and a technical communications instructor at University of California Santa Cruz Extension. Michelle has taught IBM teams and users’ groups about best practices for authoring in DITA, topic-based writing, writing for translation, editing user interfaces, and writing effective error messages. She is also a coauthor of the book Developing Quality Technical Information. Michelle loves to ride motorcycles and mountain bikes, herd cats, and diagram sentences.


Jenifer Schlotfeldt is a project leader, information developer, and technical leader at IBM and a technical communications instructor at the University of California Santa Cruz Extension. She has been authoring, testing, and teaching DITA since 2003. She has converted documentation to DITA, authored new content in DITA, contributed to new DITA specializations, and created many training materials for different facets of DITA authoring.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     xviii

About the Authors     xx


Introduction     1




Chapter 1  Topic-Based Writing in DITA     7

Books, Topics, and Webs of Information     7

Advantages of Writing in Topics for Writing Teams     9

    Writers Can Work More Productively     9

    Writers Can Share Content with Other Writers     9

    Writers Can Reuse Topics     10

    Writers Can More Quickly Organize or Reorganize Content     10

    Reviewers Can Review Small Groups of Topics Instead of Long Books     10

DITA Topic Types     10

Task Orientation     12

    Task Analysis     13

Minimalist Writing     16

    Know Your Audience 16

    Remove Nonessential Content     16

    Focus on User Goals, Not Product Functions     16

To Wrap Up     17

Topic-Based Writing Checklist     18

Task analysis form     19


Chapter 2  Task Topics     21

Separate Task Information from Conceptual or Reference Information     22

    Write One Procedure per Topic     22

    Create Subtasks to Organize Long Procedures     22

Task Components and DITA Elements     23

    Titling the Task: <title>     24

    Introducing the Task: <shortdesc>     25

    Adding More Background Information: <context>     25

    Describing Prerequisites: <prereq>     26

    Writing the Procedure: <steps> and <steps-unordered>     28

    Concluding the Task: <example>, <postreq>, and <result>     35

Task Topic Checklist     39


Chapter 3  Concept Topics     41

Describe One Concept per Topic     42

Create a Concept Topic Only if the Idea Can’t Be Covered More Concisely Elsewhere     42

Separate Task Information from Conceptual Information     42

Concept Components and DITA Elements     43

    Titling the Concept Topic: <title>     43

    Introducing the Concept Topic: <shortdesc>     44

    Writing the Concept: <conbody>     44

    Organizing the Concept: <section>     44

    Adding Lists: <ol>, <ul>, <sl>, and <dl>     45

    Including Graphics: <fig>, <title>, and <image>     48

    Highlighting New Terms: <term>     48

To Wrap Up     49

Concept Topic Checklist     50


Chapter 4  Reference Topics     51

Describe One Type of Reference Material per Topic     51

Organize Reference Information Effectively     52

Format Reference Information Consistently     52

Reference Components and DITA Elements     52

    Titling the Reference topic: <title>     53

    Introducing the Reference Information: <shortdesc>     54

    Organizing the Reference Information: <section>     54

    Creating Tables: <table>, <simpletable>, and <properties>     56

    Adding Lists: <ul> and <dl>     58

    Creating Syntax Diagrams: <refsyn> and <syntaxdiagram>     59

To Wrap Up     60


Chapter 5  Short Descriptions     63

The <shortdesc> Element     63

    How the Short Description Is Used     63

Guidelines for Writing Effective Short Descriptions     66

    Briefly State the Purpose of the Topic     67

    Include a Short Description in Every Topic     68

    Use Complete, Grammatical Sentences     69

    Don’t Introduce Lists, Figures, or Tables     70

    Keep Short Descriptions Short     71

Short Descriptions for Task, Concept, and Reference Topics     75

    Task Topic Short Descriptions     75

    Concept Topic Short Descriptions     79

    Reference Topic Short Descriptions     80

Writing Short Descriptions for Converted Content     81

The <abstract> Element     81

    Using More DITA Elements in the Topic Introduction     82

    Including Multiple Short Descriptions     83

To Wrap Up     84

Short Description Examples     85

Short Description Checklist     87




Chapter 6  DITA Maps and Navigation     91

DITA Map Structure     91

    Relationships Between Topics     92

Information Organization     92

Information Modeling     96

    Benefits of Information Modeling     96

    Building Information Models     97

Bookmaps     97

Submaps     98

DITA Map Ownership     101

Include Relationship Tables in DITA Maps     101

Override Topic Titles and Short Descriptions     102

    Navigation Titles     102

Short Descriptions     102

    Provide Unique Short Descriptions for Reused Topics     103

    Provide Short Descriptions for Links to Non-DITA Content     105

Suppressing Topics from the Table of Contents    

Suppressing Content from PDF Output     106

Suppressing Content from HTML Output     107

To Wrap Up     107

Navigation and DITA Maps Checklist     108


Chapter 7  Linking     109

Hierarchical Links     109

Inline Links     111

    Link to Prerequisite and Postrequisite Information     113

    Avoid Inline Links to Tables and Figures in a Topic     114

    Create Inline Links to Repeated Steps     115

    Create Inline Links to High-Level Tasks     115

Control How Links Are Displayed     116

Related Links     117

    Relationship Tables     118

    Implementing Relationship Tables     122

Collection Types     123

    Sequence Collection Type     124

    Choice Collection Type     127

    Unordered Collection Type     128

    Family Collection Type     129

    Determining Which Collection Type to Use     130

    Collection Types in Relationship Tables     131

Links Created with the Importance Attribute     133

Linking Scope     134

    Local Links     136

    External Links     136

    Peer Links     137

Relative Paths for Links     138

Link Testing     138

To Wrap Up     138

Linking Checklist     140


Chapter 8  Metadata    143

Why Is Metadata Important     143

Types of Metadata     144

    Index Entries     145

    Conditional Processing Attributes     149

    Importance, Status, and Translate Metadata Attributes     150

    Topic Metadata     150

    DITA Map Metadata     152

Custom Metadata     154

Metadata Inheritance     155

To Wrap Up     158

Metadata Checklist     158


Chapter 9  Conditional Processing     161

Conditional Processing Attributes     163

Creating a Conditional Processing Scheme     164

    Example of a Conditional Processing Scheme     164

Applying Conditional Processing Attributes     166

    Applying Conditions to Content in Topics     166

    Applying Conditions to DITA Maps and Relationship Tables     169

    Excluding and Including Content     171

    Flagging Content     171

Multiple and Compound Conditions     173

    Multiple Conditions     174

    Compound Conditions     174

    Processing Logic for Multiple and Compound Conditions     174

Identifying Applied Conditional Values     178

Testing Your Scheme     179

Improving Content Retrievability for the Writing Team     179

To Wrap Up     179

Conditional Processing Checklist     180


Chapter 10  Content Reuse     183

Benefits of Reuse     183

Ways to Reuse Content  184  

Reusing Elements by Using Content References     184

    Conref Attribute     187

    Phrase-Level Reuse     190

    Designated Source Files for Conrefs     180

Reusing Topics     192

    Copy-to Attribute     192

Reusing DITA Maps     194

Reusing Content from Non-DITA Sources     195

Writing for Reuse     195

Deciding Which Content to Reuse     196

    Step 1: Analyze Your Content     197

    Step 2: Identify Duplicate and Near Duplicate Content     197

    Step 3: Address the Duplication     197

    Step 4: Reorganize and Rewrite for Reuse     197

    Step 5: Implement the Reuse Strategy     197

Track Your Reuse     198

To Wrap Up     198

Reuse Checklist     199




Chapter 11  Converting Content to DITA     203

Conversion Goals     203

Create a Pilot Team     204

Conversion Process     204

Step 1. Assess the State of Your Content     205

    Content Analysis Worksheet     205

Step 2. Plan the Conversion     207

    Scheduling the Conversion     207

    Converting the Content In-House 208or Hiring a Vendor     208

    Staffing Your Conversion Team     209

    Deciding on a Conversion Strategy     210

    Defining your XML Standard     212

    Establishing Graphics Formats     212

    Establishing DITA File Requirements     214

    Deciding What DITA Topic Types You Nee217d     217

    Establishing an Architecture for Your DITA Ma218ps     218

    Handling Special Structures in Your Source Files    219

Step 3. Prepare the Content for Conversion     219

    Conversion Workshops     221

Step 4. Convert Your Source Files     222

Step 5. Address Postconversion Issues     222

    Phase 1: Address <required-cleanup> Elements     222

    Phase 2: Fix Maps and Linking     222

    Phase 3: Improve Topics     223

    Phase 4: Check for Markup Problems and Do Code Reviews     223

    Phase 5: Exploit DITA     224

Step 6. Evaluate the Conversion Process     224

To Wrap Up     224

Conversion Sizing Table     225

DITA Conversion Checklist     226


Chapter 12  DITA Code Editing     229

Code Reviews     230

    Code Review Benefits     230

Identifying Code Reviewers     232

Limiting the Scope of the Review     232

Preparing for Code Reviews     233

    Using Special Style Sheets for Revealing Problems in the Markup     233

Performing a Code Review     234

    Step 1: Schedule the Code Review     234

    Step 2: Submit the DITA Topics for Review     235

    Step 3: Review the DITA Markup     235

    Common Problems Found in Task Topics     236

    Common Problems Found in Concept Topics     241

    Common Problems Found in Reference Topics     246

    Common Problems Found in All Topic Types     249

    Common Problems Found in DITA Maps     254

    Common Problems Found in Metadata     254

    Step 4: Discuss Review Findings     254

    Step 5: Complete the Code Review     255

Code Reviews for Content Not in Topic Form     255

To Wrap Up     256

Code Review Checklist     257


Chapter 13  Content Editing     259

Defining, Scheduling, and Submitting Content Edits     260

    Defining the Types of Content Edits     260

    Scheduling the Edits     261

    Submitting Content for Edi262ting     262

Providing Editorial Feedback     263

    Inserting Draft Comments     263

    Inserting XML Comments     265

    Tracking Changes     266

    Comparing Original and Edited Files     268

Editing the Content in DITA Topics and Maps     268

    Editing DITA Topics     268

    Editing DITA Maps     269

Editing the Output     270

To Wrap Up     270

Content Editing Checklist     271


Index     273



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