How is content adapted for different output formats in DITA?

Adapting content for different output formats in DITA involves tailoring the structured content to meet the specific requirements of various delivery formats, such as PDFs, web pages, or mobile apps.

DITA content adaptation involves structured content, conditional processing, content reuse, transformations, styling and formatting, media optimization, navigation and links, metadata, accessibility, and cross-references.

  • Structured Content: DITA’s strength lies in structured content, where topics are organized into elements like sections, lists, tables, and more. These structures provide flexibility when adapting content for different output formats.
  • Conditional Processing: DITA allows the application of conditional processing attributes (commonly “conref” and “conkeyref”) to include or exclude content based on target output. This is essential for ensuring that content is appropriate for a particular medium.
  • Content Reuse: Reusable components in DITA, such as key references, facilitate efficient content adaptation. Instead of duplicating information, reusable content is referenced, ensuring consistency across formats.
  • Transformations: Depending on the chosen output format, DITA content undergoes transformations. For example, HTML output may require different styling and linking compared to a PDF document.
  • Styling and Formatting: Each output format may have distinct styling and formatting requirements. DITA content can be styled using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) or other formatting mechanisms specific to the format.
  • Media Optimization: Images, videos, or multimedia elements are optimized for different output formats. For example, high-resolution images are suitable for print, while lower-resolution images may suffice for web content to reduce load times.
  • Navigation and Links: Navigation structures can vary. For web content, dynamic navigation menus and links are common, while print documents might rely on tables of contents and indexes. These navigation structures are tailored accordingly.
  • Metadata: Metadata, such as document titles, abstracts, keywords, and author information, can be adapted for each output format to ensure consistency with the target medium’s conventions.
  • Accessibility Considerations: Content must adhere to accessibility standards (e.g., WCAG) when preparing content for digital formats, ensuring that it is usable by people with disabilities. This includes providing alternative text for images, semantic HTML elements, and proper document structuring.
  • Cross-References: Links, references, and cross-references may need adjustment to fit the specific navigation and linking requirements of each output format. For example, links in web content are often hyperlinked, while print documents may use page references.


A software documentation project uses DITA as its content source, with the need to adapt content for both a user manual (PDF format) and an online knowledge base (HTML format).

  • Structured Content: The DITA source contains structured topics, including sections on installation, configuration, troubleshooting, and FAQ.
  • Conditional Processing: Conditional processing attributes are applied to include or exclude certain content. For example, advanced troubleshooting procedures with a specialized tool are excluded from the online knowledge base but retained in the PDF manual.
  • Content Reuse: Common sections like “System Requirements” and “Glossary” are reused in both formats, ensuring consistency.
  • Transformations: During transformation, the PDF user manual adheres to print-friendly styling, with page headers, footers, and a table of contents. In contrast, the online knowledge base undergoes transformations for responsive design, enabling it to adapt to various screen sizes.
  • Styling and Formatting: The PDF manual adheres to the organization’s style guide, incorporating headers, page numbers, and a consistent font. For the web-based knowledge base, it uses CSS to ensure responsive design and consistent styling.
  • Media Optimization: High-resolution images are embedded in the PDF manual, while the online knowledge base uses compressed, web-optimized versions to ensure faster load times.
  • Navigation and Links: The user manual uses a table of contents, page references, and an index. The online knowledge base employs dynamic menus, hyperlinks, and a robust search function.
  • Accessibility Considerations: In the web-based knowledge base, alt text is provided for images, and semantic HTML is used for content structuring to meet accessibility standards.
  • Cross-References: Links to related sections within the user manual include page references, while the online knowledge base includes hyperlinked references.