DITA reuse and conversion together

When you are considering converting content from Word or unstructured FrameMaker (or other unstructured formats) into DITA, one of the things you want to consider before you start converting is your reuse strategy.
Why reuse and conversion together?

Your reuse strategy can be partially implemented as part of the conversion process, which means that you can automate some of the work. The highly automated nature of conversion is the perfect opportunity to sneak in some reuse automation at the same time. If you know what your reuse goals are, you can save a lot of manual effort by using the conversion process to automatically and programmatically add some reuse mechanisms to your content.

At its core, a DITA conversion is the process of mapping your content and formatting to DITA elements and attributes. If you opt to ignore certain formats or objects, your conversion process essentially “flattens” your content and you lose a great opportunity to automate.

For example, if you neglect to map variables to a specific element in DITA, then those variables are converted as plain text and you’ve lost your opportunity to apply a DITA element to them programmatically (and quickly).

In short, with a little planning and setup, combining reuse and conversion can save you lots of time.

Reuse strategy

A reuse strategy defines what kind of content you’ll reuse and how you’ll reuse it, including the DITA mechanisms you’ll need for each kind of reuse.

Generally speaking, you should be looking at reusing two types of content:

  1. Content that stays the same: Wherever it is, it needs to be standardized.
  2. Content that changes: Content has variations because of the
    • context of the person reading it (or someone who is re-branding and publishing it)
    • product version, suite or product combinations, or
    • changing nature of the product over time (like product or component names that may evolve).

Your reuse strategy is going to be your target. Without this strategy you’re really not going to be able to definitively know what it is you need to do during conversion or how to best do it. Planning and testing the reuse strategy before conversion is the key to being able to automate its application as part of conversion.

Reuse strategy for conversion

Although you should always develop a content reuse strategy when moving to DITA, when combining reuse and conversion, you need to add an extra layer to your reuse strategy that includes two major areas:

1.     Identify your existing content reuse (text insets, conditions, and variables) and decide how you’ll leverage it during conversion.

a)      What will each one map to?

b)      What is your desired end result?

2.     Plan for new content reuse that can be applied during conversion.

a)      What is your desired end result? What reuse mechanisms do you want to use?

b)      What and how can you automate?

c)       What do you need to change to enable automation during conversion? (You may need to apply formatting, for example, to automate something you really need.)

Content reuse in DITA

Everyone’s requirements are unique, but in general you should consider some common reuse strategies in DITA to get you started.

DITA allows you to use a variety of methods to reuse content and you’ll want to consider them all. When you’re getting started with reuse, you usually consider three main mechanisms:

  • Conref: Conref’ing is a mechanism that is equivalent to a text inset in FrameMaker, where a chunk of content (less than a topic) is pulled in from another location. DITA does this using a conref. (A push mechanism is also available, but less frequently used.)
  • Profiling: Profiling is equivalent to FrameMaker conditions, where content can be shown or hidden based on attribute values on elements.
  • Topic reuse: Topic-level reuse is simply pulling your topic into a map wherever it’s needed. Once in DITA, content is modular enough to be in short, reusable chunks. You don’t necessarily need to plan for this reuse during conversion, but it may allow you to NOT convert some content.
Warehouse topics for conrefs

These are topics that hold fragments of content and are never meant to be published as topics. You might create a warehouse topic for each of the following:

  • GUI objects, fields, buttons, icons
  • Frequently used steps, with step results and info
  • All your notes and warnings
  • Pre-requisites that are commonly mentioned, like having administrative privileges

You then use these warehouse topics as the source for conref mechanisms. Just like with text insets, warehouse topics let you write content once, and use wherever you need it. That means, when it changes, you update it in one spot. You translate it once too.

Once you know the steps that will go into a warehouse topic, for example, you can apply a distinct FrameMaker or Word format/style to the steps and then script conversion that will

  1. Pull the step into a warehouse topic (if not already there).
  2. Replace the step with a conref from the warehouse topic.

The result is that a good chunk of your reuse is automated during conversion.

DITA keys

Keys are a powerful mechanism in DITA. Although not strictly reuse, they can make reuse faster, simpler, and more dynamic. If you’re planning consistent, ongoing, and growing reuse, then consider keys as well.

Keys are used for indirect referencing of any kind. You can use keys for any piece that may need to be centrally updated or swapped out. For example, keys are often used for

  • Variables: To define terms or product names that can change based on context or over time.
  • URLs: To centrally manage and update them or customize them based on deliverables.
  • Conrefs become conkeyrefs: To pull in a different set of conrefs and quickly customize a document.
  • Related links: To customize them based on deliverable when topics are reused in multiple maps.
  • Including/excluding topics or maps: To create deliverables that have specific content without having to create many different maps.

Note: DITA keys will change for DITA 1.3; they will include a scoping mechanism that will simplify and extend linking. This article is based on DITA 1.2.

DITA keys ensure maximum reuse with minimum long-term efforts for updates.

An example of applying reuse during conversion: variables

If I know that I’ll be using keys to manage content that changes frequently (every release or when there is re-branding), I can ensure that, for example, the variables I’m using in FrameMaker for my product and version are part of my conversion. Instead of converting them as text, I can convert variables as <keyword> elements.

Converting variables as plain text is what we call flattening variables—once flattened, there is nothing that distinguishes them from the rest of the text. If you’re expecting conversion to leverage the DITA key mechanism but you are flattening variables, you will be left with adding keys manually after conversion.

Instead, as part of your conversion, you can leverage your variables by wrapping an appropriate element around them and even setting a keyref value on the element.

For example, my conversion plan for variables might specifically map variables to elements and keyrefs.

Variables become keys
Variables named… Are converted as element… With keyref value… For an end result of…
AppleBanana <keyword> product <keyword   keyref=”product”/>
ComponentB <keyword> componentB <keyword keyref=”componentB”/>

However, when you’re building this plan, it’s essential that you know that keys are defined in a map and defined only once. So if you need both Apple and Banana products to have separate names in a deliverable, then you need to create a unique keyref value for each one. When they have the same keyref value, then they resolve to the same name in the output. In my example above, <keyword keyref=”product”/> will resolve to the same product name in a particular DITA map, but can change in other DITA maps. I can no longer have both Apple and Banana in the same DITA map.

The key here is to plan, test, and then test again.

Strategies for combining conversion and reuse

It’s sometimes quite difficult to determine what can and should be done as part of the conversion to build the end result you need. There are two possible solutions to this:

  1. Manually build your end result in DITA and test it out until you’re sure it’s how you want to work. You can do this on a small set of content if you have limited funds or time, but the larger and more realistic the data set, the more accurate it will be for your overall needs. Once you have something that actually works the way you want it with the reuse set up the way you need it, you have a very concrete goal to work towards and can figure out what can be built and automated as part of conversion.
  2. Convert a small set of content, automating the reuse parts that you know you’ll need for sure and use that as an iterative process to keep building upon it until you have your desired result.

Either way, slow and steady is the way to go. Diving into conversion without considering reuse can lead to some frustrated hours or days doing something that could have taken seconds.

Best practices to prepare content for reuse

At this point, some of you may be saying that this is just too difficult and too time consuming to figure out. You want to convert now! Well, that’s ok too, but you should consider doing some basic pre-conversion work that will let you at least search and replace (or find) items that you want to reuse.

For example, what you can do while converting or before converting that will save time afterwards is:

  1. Re-write content and chunk content: A precursor to any good conversion is making sure your content adheres nicely to the topic-based writing paradigm and that you have clear distinctions between task, reference, and concept. All other work is based on this essential step. This is also where you would remove text indicators to location of other content, like the words “before, after, following, preceding, next, first”. In DITA, content can occur in any order, so you should remove any references to location.
  2. Include placeholders for future reuse: If you know you’ll be replacing the step “Select Log in from [graphic] and enter your administrative credentials.” with a conref, then go ahead and replace the content with “Conref login admin.” in your unstructured source. You’re simplifying the structure so your conversion will be faster and easier and afterwards, you can quickly insert a conref or conkeyref right where you need one.
  3. Standardize phrasing: The hardest things to do is find content that is almost the same but not quite matching. Although laborious, this pre-conversion cleanup process can set you up for easy reuse down the road. A tool like Acrolinx can help.
  4. Use a FrameMaker condition to identify likely or potential reusable content that you want to revisit after conversion. Then convert the condition as <draft-comment> elements. This is a good way to leave a note to yourself that is easily findable after conversion.
  5. Convert boilerplate content once, even if it has variations: If you have many versions of legal pages, copyright statements, standard notices, and any other content that is generally standardized, don’t bother converting those with each book. Convert them once, then modify the XML until it meets your requirements for all your books.
Resources

 


What’s in a DITA file?

When you first start tackling a DITA conversion, it’s difficult to get a handle on just what comprises a single file. Is it one topic? Is it multiple topics? How long should a file be? How short can it be? We’ll tackle these questions in this article.
Perfect File

The perfect DITA file is one that contains one topic, where that topic is as long or as short as it needs to be.

The length of a topic depends entirely on the subject matter and issues of usability. Generally, the litmus test is asking yourself “Can a user navigate to this one topic and have all the information they need for it to be usable and stand on its own?” If it’s too short, you’re forcing them to navigate away to find more information. If it’s too long, it becomes too onerous to follow.

Your file should contain just one topic, be it task, concept, or reference, regardless of the length of your topic.

Shortest File

The shortest file allowed in DITA is a topic that contains only a title element and nothing more.

SDKSFeb1

This is absolutely allowed but it is something that you would only do for a specific reason, such as adding another level of headings.

Longest File

The longest file you should have is one that supports your requirements. trusted tablets For most technical publications content, you should only have one topic per file.

Note: An exception to this rule is if you’re authoring training content using the DITA Learning and Training Specialization; there are very good reasons for having many topics in a single file in that case, but those would all be learning and training topics, not the core concept, task, and reference that DITA is built upon. Note that this is true as of DITA 1.2 but may change in the not-so-distant future.

Chunking

DITA architecture allows you to nest many topics into one file. However, doing so introduces major limitations on reuse. If you nest topics into one file, you will be sacrificing the flexibility that DITA introduces. It’s like choosing to hop on one leg instead of running on both.

Breaking each topic out into its own file is what we call “chunking.” One purpose of chunking is to allow the authors to have incredible flexibility when it comes to reusing this content.

Consider this nested task within a task, where two tasks are in the same file.

SDKSFeb2

If I want to include the information about studying with a master somewhere else, such as a guide for becoming a senator, I’ll be out of luck because I haven’t separated my two tasks into separate topics—when they’re in the same file, where one goes, the other must also follow.

Once a topic is in its own file, an author can pull that topic into any deliverable that needs it. It’s not uncommon for one file to be part of up to ten or more deliverables. If you have multiple topics in that one file, then they all must be reused along with the one you want, without the possibility of even changing the order of them.

There are many other good reasons to chunk. For example, if your content needs to be reorganized, you can quickly drag and drop topics that are each in their own files. All navigation and linking is automatically updated based on your new organization.

How It All Comes Together

Chunking content into individual topics is the first major hurdle that authors face when adopting DITA because it’s so far away from our training and understanding of writing in chapters, books, and documents. It’s not clear how all those tiny little topics come together. And be warned, you will have hundreds of topics that make up just one deliverable.

Enter the DITA map, the great glue that holds it all together.

You can think of a DITA map (which has a .ditamap file extension) as nothing but an organizational mechanism or even as a Table of Contents. A DITA map itself has very little content. It usually contains just a title. What it does have, though, are topicrefs, which are references to all those files you’ve authored.

Here’s a visual representation of a map, where I’ve told it to “pull in” my two topics (with a hierarchy, one nested below the other). When I create my map, I add the topics that are relevant to this deliverable. The map simply references them using a file path with the href attribute.

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That same map in code view looks like this:

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The only thing that’s actually typed into this map is the content in the element. The other two objects, the topicrefs, are pointing to the files that are my two tasks using the href value, in this case simply the names of the files: become_jedi.dita and study_jedi.dita.

When you publish a DITA map with all your topics referenced, you get a single deliverable with all your content. For PDFs, you’ll have content that looks exactly like your PDFs created from FrameMaker, Word, InDesign or whatever else you have used. For HTML output, each file becomes its own page, with automated navigation to all the other pages. All outputs are entirely customizable.

SDKSFeb5

Summary

Although the length of your topics will vary depending on the subject matter, your files should contain just one topic. Use your DITA map to bring your topics together, giving you the flexibility that DITA promises, including topic-level reuse and the ability to quickly reorganize your content.


DITA and graphics: what you need to know

A DITA project is an ideal time to audit, enhance, and start managing your media assets. Like any other piece of content, your media are a valuable resource that the company can leverage.

Although much of a transition to DITA concentrates on improving the quality of your content, there are also some distinct benefits to your media as well. By media, I mean:

  • Logos (for branding/marketing)
  • Screenshots
  • Illustrations
  • Diagrams
  • Image maps (a flow graphic that shows how a process or a set of tasks connect with clickable hot spots)
  • Inline graphics for buttons, tips, notes

When you’re moving to DITA, you should be thinking about two things when it comes to media:

  • Minimizing and single sourcing
  • Introducing and maintaining best practices
Graphics you no longer need

Probably the biggest mistake when moving to DITA is to lug your extra, non-essential media around with you, just in case.

Any graphic that is being used solely for the purposes of design can be managed centrally instead of being placed in everyone’s individual folders. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Icons for tips/notes
  • Logos for the title page, header, footer
  • Horizontal rules for separation of content areas

All these graphics get applied on publish so each individual author no longer has to worry about them. Your authors no longer even see these graphics—and also no longer need to manage them. Your publishing expert still needs to manage these graphics efficiently, but at least now there’s only one graphic to manage instead of dozens or hundreds.

For example, when the branding guidelines are updated, the publishing expert simply updates the logo used in the stylesheets–replacing one graphic in one place instead of a graphic in every single title page and footer throughout your library of content.

Prune and archive

The design-related graphics are easy to throw away, but we all have extra graphics lying around. It’s not unusual for a single graphic to have 5 or more other related graphics that are hanging around just in case. For example, you may have files that are older versions, variations, and different size and quality options.

We always loathe to “lose” a graphic, but DITA migration is the perfect time to archive the older versions and variations—but keep the quality options because they’ll come in handy.

A graphic is only useful if it conveys something that words cannot. If you can explain what the graphic shows, then the graphic is usually redundant and not useful. If you can’t explain it, then the graphic is needed. Prune your content of the graphics that don’t add any value.

Formats

DITA lets you specify multiple types of formats for a single graphic so that you are always publishing the right graphic for the right format. You can easily publish different formats (such as color for ePub and grayscale for print) using DITA attributes.

All graphics are either vector or raster. The format you use will depend on the type of graphic you need and the outputs you’re publishing to. For more information about raster versus vector, see this article.

Vector graphics (specifically SVG) are usually the right choice for most technical illustrations and diagrams as long as they don’t require complex coloring (like drop shadowing and shading). They are clear, clean graphics that look professional and don’t have that “fuzzy” look on publish.

A huge added bonus is that, because they are made up of layers, you can export the text (usually in the form of callouts or labels) and translate just that text if you’re providing localized content. This saves having to edit or even re-create a graphic when localizing. Another benefit is that in HTML outputs, they also allow users to zoom without pixilation, as needed.

It’s just icing on the cake that vector graphics are smaller, more compact files with lossless data compression.

SVG is an open standard, advocated by W3C, the Web consortium that is bringing you HTML5. It might not be the only graphic format in the future, but it will definitely be a forerunner. You can create SVG files from most graphics editors, including but not limited to: Adobe Illustrator (.ai and .eps files), Microsoft Visio, InkScape, and Google.

Size

The best size for your graphics depends on the output type. PDFs and HTML have different widths and resolutions. This really does get tricky, but if you’re using the DITA OpenToolkit to publish, it’s possible to set default maximum widths (maintaining the correct aspect ratio) so that you’ll at least never overwhelm your audience with a massive graphic. Use this default maximum in combination with authors using DITA attributes to set preferred width or height (but not both).

Interactive graphics

Some illustrations are best done in 3D. The ability to manipulate, rotate, zoom and otherwise play with graphics is not just really cool, it can also let users access the information they need without overwhelming them with 20 different views/zooms of a particular object or object set.

You can also play around with something like Prezi (or better yet, Impress.js), which lets you display and connect information graphically.

Manage graphics

If your authors don’t know that a graphic exists or they can’t find it, then that graphic is a wasted resource. It’s not uncommon for an author to forget or be unable to find the graphics that they themselves created months or years before.

Every time an author re-creates a graphic that they could have re-used, they are wasting on average 5 hours. Assuming your authors are worth approximately $45/hour and that they re-create a graphic they should have re-used about 4 times per year, then that means the company is wasting $900/year/author. If you have 10 authors, that’s $9000/year that could be saved with some simple, basic management of graphics with little or no cost or effort. If you have complex graphics, double or triple that savings.

Just like topic reuse, graphics reuse is a no-brainer source of savings for your company.

They key to graphics management is metadata. File naming, even with strict enforcement, is one of those things that degrades over time. Mistakes creep in. If you’re relying primarily on file naming, then expect to lose or orphan graphics. (An orphaned graphic is one that is not referenced by any topics.)

Instead, use descriptive tags applied to each graphic so authors can search, filter, and find the graphics they’re looking for. Then make sure they search for existing graphics before creating new ones from scratch. This same metadata can also be used to let media be searchable to end users when you publish. If you have videos, you can take this one step further and provide a time-delineated list of subjects covered in the video so users can skip right to the spot they want.

Descriptive tags should also be intelligently managed so you don’t have people using slightly different tags and so that you can modify the tags when it’s needed. These tags are called a taxonomy/classification scheme and can lead to their own chaos if left unmanaged and uncontrolled. Either keep them extremely simple (fewer than 10 tags, no hierarchy), select a CCMS that allows you to manage them, or call in an expert to help you out.

Manage source files

Don’t forget to store and manage your source files for graphics in a similar way to your graphic output files themselves.

A quality CCMS makes it easy to store your source graphics with your output graphics (or vice versa), so you can easily find, for example, both your Visio source file and your eight associated .PNG files.

If your CCMS doesn’t include this functionality (or if you’re using file folders instead), the key is to use metadata that matches how you’re managing your output graphics so that your filters and searches will automatically include the source files for graphics as well.

Summary

Graphics are the least-emphasized aspect of a DITA conversion project, but it’s worth the effort to establish which graphics you need to keep, how to manage them, and how to make them findable for both authors and end users. Your graphics are valuable assets that can and should be leveraged.


I got my XML back. Now what?

If you’re new to DITA conversion projects or you’re planning on converting content soon, then you should give some thought to all the pieces that go into a successful conversion. A well thought out content strategy will help guide you through the process of conversion, but if you haven’t considered all the minutiae, this article will help fill in the blanks.
Review the conversion

Make sure that you take a look at the converted content to check for the following items:

  • You captured all content you wanted, including conditional content, variables, and document details (subtitles, document dates and identifiers, version numbers, etc.).
  • The content was chunked correctly for your needs. Were sections used where you wanted topics or vice versa?
  • Did tables convert correctly? Is all information there, including items like vertical text (as attributes)?
  • Are there any validity problems? Check validity. Publish using an XML editor like oXygen using the DITA Open Toolkit to XHTML to ensure you can publish without errors.
  • Are the file names the ones you want to use going forward? Is the structure the one you want to keep? If you make changes, make sure you modify all references as well or you’ll have broken paths. If you are using a quality CCMS, consider making these changes after you have uploaded your files (no path changes necessary).
  • Did you leave the chaff behind? If you still have any content that is redundant, useless, or outdated, remove it now. (Tip: Ideally, you should do the bulk of this work before you convert.)

Don’t assume anything. Having eyes on your converted content (all of it) is going to save you endless frustration down the road. Even the best conversion doesn’t always result in exactly what you need or want.

Gather metrics

If you haven’t already, make sure you have “before” metrics using your legacy tools and processes for how long it took to author new content, update content with changes, fix bugs, review content (peer review, tech editor review, SME review, QA review), translate content, and publish content. Remember that your legacy metrics will likely be based on books or chapters and that your new metrics will be based on topics (and maps for publishing). This means you need to have an idea of how many “topics” would have made up a chapter or book in legacy content so that you aren’t stuck comparing apples to oranges. Start keeping metrics on the items below as well to get an idea of how long it takes to implement your re-use strategy, for example.

Identify and fix content that needs work

It is an inevitable certainty that the content you convert will need some work once you get it back. Although you can and should do the bulk of your re-writing before you convert, once you see content in topics, you might realize that you have some key areas to clean up. Concentrate on the big ones, including:

  • Ensure you have the right topic type for the content. If your content is a procedure, then it should be in task topic. If it is meant for quick look up (tables, lists, alphabetized or organized), then it should be a reference topic. If the content explains what something is, how it works, or why the user should care about it, then it’s a concept topic. Those are broad distinctions, but make sure the content fits the topic type.
  • Do your tasks focus on user goals and is your content minimal? If your tasks cover functionality (using widget A, customizing widget B, etc.), then you likely suffer from badly focussed content.  One of the biggest benefits of DITA is topic-based writing and minimalism, which both enforce writing content that users actually need to get their daily work done. Take the time now to at minimum identify what needs work and ideally re-write the best candidates for improvements. It’s important to do this part before you work on your re-use strategy because it will give you all sorts of ideas on how you can re-use content.
Load into a CCMS (optional but usually recommended)

Even with only one writer and no translations, if you have a decent amount of re-use and any workflows to adhere to, the ROI on a CCMS (Component Content Management System) can be less than 3 years. The CCMS pays for itself in increased efficiency in a thousand different ways. The ROI is much shorter if you have multiple authors, standard amounts of re-use, and translate to one or more languages.  You should load your content into your CCMS before working on it more profoundly because once it is in there, it’s easier to find and update content, apply re-use strategies like keys, conditions, and conrefs, and generally work with your content. It also gives you the opportunity to get to know the ins and outs of the CCMS. If you haven’t yet purchased a CCMS but you are shopping around for one, you can use your newly converted content as part of a demo or trial. Simply ask the vendor to include your content. Although most CCMSs are intelligent enough for you to point to a ditamap and grab all associated files, there are always some files that are not referenced in your map but need to be uploaded, managed, and versioned, including but not limited to:

  • Source files for graphics (Visio, Photoshop, SnagIt, etc.)
  • Legacy materials in PDF, HTML, etc. if you want to keep copies of them
  • Videos (including source files and supporting files)
  • Graphics that may not be used directly but that you want to keep because they are valuable assets and may be used in the future (not necessarily in the documentation)
  • Engineering documents
  • Strategy documents
  • Anything else that needs to be accessed by multiple authors, versioned, and/or never lost

CCMSs will store these as BLOBs (Binary Large Objects), so make sure you add the appropriate metadata to these files to make sure they are findable and filterable by authors, editors, and managers. 

Apply re-use strategy

Your re-use strategy could be something simple like inserting keys and keyrefs to automatically pull in glossary terms or something more complex like using conkeyrefs to pull in conditional elements as needed. At a minimum, you’ll probably want to use conrefs for frequently repeated content, like software/hardware states, warnings or cautions, content that must be standardized across most or all documents, menu options, definitions, and anything that you’d like to update in one place and use wherever needed.

Your re-use strategy should be planned out in advanced as part of your larger content strategy, but once you receive content back from conversion, you need to actually implement your re-use strategy. The more re-use you can get out of your content, the better it is in the long term because it means huge savings in updating content, reviewing content, and translating content, not to mention confidence that you will never have contradictory information. Keep in mind, though, that extensive re-use takes time to implement—it’s a huge cost-saving step that, yes, costs some initial effort but will directly impact and improve your ROI by months if not years. So put the effort in to applying your re-use strategy before authors start working on content. 

Apply metadata strategy

Metadata is like putting strings on your XML elements so you can make them dance. Like your re-use strategy, your metadata strategy is primarily planned out as part of your content strategy. Some metadata will be applied automatically during conversion (like conditional attributes) if it existed in the content submitted for conversion, but you’ll also need to introduce some new metadata. Metadata lets you introduce and manage:

  • Conditional content to provide custom outputs to users on specific platforms, with specific expertise, or with certain combinations of products.
  • Publishing controls like vertical text for table heading or customizing the content for mobile outputs.
  • SEO keywords to improve findability of topics by search engines.
  • Topic information like author, product, embedded help ID, version, topic status (like draft, in review, final, published, archived), content contributors, etc. If you need to track it, then use metadata.
  • Taxonomy so users can browse by subject.
  • Categories/keywords for media, including graphics and videos (this helps make them findable by authors too).
  • Pretty much anything else you can imagine that is in addition to rather than strictly inside the readable content.
Work on publishing

A depressing number of people converting for the first time are dismayed and shocked to find out that the publishing aspect of a DITA project is a completely separate and additional effort over and above the conversion and (usually) the use of a CCMS. Remember that separating content from formatting (as with any conversion to XML) means that you then must put some initial effort into creating the look and feel that you want in each desired output. It’s a big one-time effort (with occasional updates thereafter) that new DITA-ites understandably often overlook. Whether you publish using the DITA Open Toolkit, a publishing tool/engine like Adobe’s Publishing Server, a third-party website like MindTouch or Fluid Topics, a CCMS add-on, or a homegrown solution, the publishing aspect of a DITA conversion project takes planning, effort, and testing. As with most projects, the more planning and testing you do, the less work it will be. There are many aspects to publishing, but at a high level, it can be split into two distinct parts:

  • Converting XML to the output formats you need (HTML, ePub, PDF, etc.)
  • Delivering the content to the users (how will users access and experience the content?)

The second bullet could include a lot of work including building a website, designing a search algorithm, designing the interface, introducing ratings and commenting systems, integrating with Support or Knowledge Bases, implementing user access, allowing users to submit their own content, designing support for adaptive content, adding accessibility features, and much more. This is the single most forgotten aspect of the content lifecycle and arguably, one of the most important ones. Throwing a PDF or tri-plane help at your users is no longer meeting user demands, so we need to step up and design the entire content experience.

Conclusion

Although conversion feels like the end of a DITA project, there’s a lot of work to be done once you get your XML. Your content strategy will be your guide throughout this process and can help you avoid making costly errors or forgetting to plan for important parts of the project.