About DITA

DITA is an XML-based architecture for authoring and publishing topic-oriented, information-typed, content. While it has been initially driven by the requirements of large-scale technical documentation, it is applicable to any kind of publication or information where modular information topics can be identified and developed. Examples include help guides, standards and specifications, policies and procedures, technical glossaries, technical and business reports, and more. DITA is well fitted to flexibly support incremental information and knowledge development.

DITA topics are arranged into maps; combining hierarchic, nested, and sequential structures. Maps can be published to a avriety of forms from the same source; such as PDF, HTML, CHM (HTML Help), Web Help, SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model -- an e-learning content set of standards), and several others. DITA text-based source markup is transformed into publishable media via specialized, open source, Java processors that are integrated into almost any DITA editor. Ouput customization takes place by editing transformation and/or style sheets, depending on the format of desired output.

DITA was originally developed by IBM and was later donated to OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards), which is currently the official standards body responsible for its development and specifications. There are current initiatives to expand the adoption of DITA for structuring and linking information in various industries and business environments (e.g. Learning By Wrote and DITA4all, whose misson is to make DITA an affordable option for structured documentation by large and small organizations alike.).

Main DITA content units

Topics are the main reusable authoring units. A topic is meant to be a self-contained information module of a fairly limited size (to maximize potential re-use). All DITA topics have the same basic structure: a title and an optional content body. The body of different types of topics contains a structure of elements that is mot fitted to support the respective content type. Topic elements are analogous to HTML tags, except that they vary depending on topic type, as opposed to HTML, which is defined by a single schema.

Topics can be generic or more specialized. Specialized topics represent more specific information types or semantic roles. The main DITA specialized topic types include Concept, Task, Reference, and Glossary. The DITA standard contains many more specialized topic types that are recognized by DITA editors and supported by DITA transformation tools. DITA allows Information designers and architects to further specialize any standard topic, so that it would serve a specific knowledge domain and/or support specific structural constraints. Somewhat like databases, topic vocabulary and structural grammar is defined by a schema.

The following is a description of the main specialized topic types:
  • Concept topics provide background that helps readers understand essential information about a product, a service, a process, a function, or any other conceptual or descriptive information. Conceptual information helps readers map their knowledge and understanding to the tasks that need to be performed to acheive an objective.
  • Reference topics provide quick access to factual information, possibly in support of the performance of a task or the management of a process. Reference topics may provide lists and tables that include specifications and constraints on utility or performance, and other data that is often “looked up” rather than memorized.
  • Task topics are the essential building blocks to provide procedural information. A task information type answers the "How to?" question by providing precise step-by-step instructions, actions that must be performed, and the order in which the actions must be performed. The task topic includes sections for describing the context, prerequisites, expected results, and other aspects of a task. Tasks may contain more granular, similarly structured sub-tasks.
  • Glossary topics allow authors to define terms, either within individual topic files or as a group within one topic file. The flexible granularity provides authors with freedom of identifying their "reusable" information unit (being a single term, a group of terms, or a set of glossary groups).
  • Composite topics allow authors the freedom to combine any number and type of topics within a single topic file, in an arbitrary order. This case may arise when needing to generate a single HTML output file, for example, or possibly when the constituent topics content is of limited size and exhibits strong intra-topic relations.

Maps are used to organize topics into a combination of hierarchy and sequence to be used for producing output of any of the fore mentioned forms. Maps may be nested within broader maps and they feature map-level (inter-topic) linking mechanism of related topics.

DITA main features

  • Minimalism: encourages containing typed units of information within concise topics that can be as much as possible self standing.
  • Contente re-use: well written topics may be combined and/or arranged in different ways within a topic map to generate multiple documents targeting different purposes or audience, while avoiding to re-edit content.
  • Single sourcing: DITA authored topics and maps can be funneled into a variety of output forms and media without having to modify the source or to use different specialized editing platforms.
  • Conditional processing: processing directives may be used within topics and/or maps to enable generating output that may or may not contain specific content units according to preset conditions.
  • Specialization: The specialization feature of DITA allows for the creation of new element types and attributes that are explicitly and formally derived from existing types. The resulting specialization allows for the interchange of all conforming DITA content across a certain community, with common authoring rules and processing for the specialized DITA content.