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Every day, organizations that are using desktop publishing and are just learning about DITA XML drop by our website looking for information. The first thing we say to these readers is: If you haven’t done your homework on DITA yet, then it’s way too early to be looking at technology.

Before looking for a DITA tool, it’s important to understand DITA itself and find out if it’s right for you.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s suggest some things you can do to get off on a good foot. The transition from unstructured authoring (e.g. desktop publishing) to structured authoring is significant, and the change costs are non-trivial.

Before you evaluate technologies, you need to determine if DITA is right for you.


How Do I Know If DITA Is Right for Me?

Ask yourself:

  1. Does my organization reuse content? – e.g., do we reuse content between products or different types of publications like training and manuals?
  2. Do we deliver content in multiple languages?
  3. Do we publish to different types of audiences?
  4. Do you require an audit trail for documentation?
  5. Do we struggle to maintain consistency between documents?
  6. Do we have difficulty keeping documents up to date?
  7. Do we have problems keeping documents in a shared location? – e.g., a single source
  8. Do we deliver content in multiple formats (print, PDF, help, web, mobile, etc.) from a single source?

If you answered “yes” to one or more questions, DITA might be a great fit for you. The more “yeses” the stronger your case for DITA.

If DITA is Right for You…

If you’ve determined that you can benefit from component content, and that DITA is right for you, there is still learning to do and preparations to make before you can transition from desktop publishing to productively using any DITA solution. Here’s our recommendations for a successful DITA implementation:

Learn More About DITA

If you’ve never used structured authoring solutions before, you should take some time to understand the differences in information development methods – and writing styles – for component-oriented content. There are a number of books on the market that lead you through best practices for creating reusable content. We suggest you explore Minimalism and Writing For Reuse as topics of interest to your information developers, and read books and attend learning events like a DITA Boot Camp. You can see recommended events past and upcoming here.


Join Communities

We recommend The Content Wrangler Community for starters.

Develop a Content Strategy

This means understanding how content will be reused, localized, managed, and delivered. A complete content strategy will define a workflow that assures content quality and compliance with your requirements. It will validate whether and why you should transition from desktop publishing to DITA and will outline the Return on Investment. A complete content strategy will also define a transition plan for how to address legacy content, and how and when to convert that content to DITA. There are a number of consultants that specialize in Content Strategies for component content in general, and DITA in specific. Find one to help you develop a content strategy (we can recommend several if you like). 

Develop a Content Model

A content model is a “data structure” for document-oriented content. it defines how content will be reused. For DITA projects this means deciding on whether you require a DITA specialization or not, and implementing a “flavor” of DITA that meets your needs. In some cases, this means extending DITA, but in just as many it can mean defining the subset of DITA that meets your needs. This is something else a DITA consultant can help you with.


Document your Technology Requirements

Once you have a content strategy and content model, you can develop your essential requirements for authoring, content management, collaboration, and publishing technology. Be sure to make strong distinctions on what is essential and what is “nice to have”. Use these requirements to develop a “short list” of solutions that meet your needs. Take advantage of Free Trial offers (like ours) to validate that products meet your requirements, and get to know the vendors during the trial process.

Develop an Implementation Timetable and Secure your Budget

Once you have requirements, it’s time to put a plan in place to adopt DITA and a budget to support a Pilot and a Production System Rollout, including training and change management.

Conduct a “Production Pilot”

Using your content model and choosing a legacy publication or a small “live fire” content project, convert or develop the content in DITA, and reproduce two or more of your output formats. This will give you a practical understanding of what it takes to publish DITA content (i.e., stylesheet and transform development), as well as any limitations on the finished look of your published outputs. You will need a DITA implementation consultant to help you in this process. You’ll also need a production DITA environment for the pilot. Heretto is well suited for this; you can use Heretto Lite on a month-to-month agreement during the pilot, with no long term commitment until you prove that DITA will work for your organization.

Implement DITA

After you’ve completed your pilot and learned about any “gotchas” along the way, you’re ready to buy technology, deploy it, and get your organization up to speed. Learn more about the implementation process.

DITA isn’t for everyone, but it might be right for your organization.

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Note: This post was originally published in 2012 by Paul Wlodarczyk. It has been updated to offer additional, helpful resources.

John Baker
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