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.).
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.
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.