Editor’s Note: This post has been written by Dr. Tony Self of HyperWrite. Tony will delivering DITA training during October at Cherryleaf’s training centre in London.
In the field of technical communication, an argument crops up from time to time saying that technical communicators shouldn’t have to know anything about XML, because writing is writing, and XML is coding, and never the twain should meet. Dissecting the argument, it appears that the underlying claim is “language first; technology and tools later”.
In many cases, it seems the logic gets a little lost. I have heard statements along the line of “if you can’t string a sentence together, knowing about XML elements and attributes won’t make you a technical writer”, as if those skills are mutually exclusive.
My first observation is that the debate is often poorly framed. XML is not precise enough a term; what does “knowing about XML” mean? XML is an enormous field, covering programming, writing, archeology, journalism, eLearning, spacecraft design, mathematics, chemistry, audio recording, banking, gambling, engine management, and pretty much every field of human endeavour. So in a discussion about the role of XML in technical communication, we need to define what we mean by XML. Bearing in mind that XML is principally a standard for creating XML languages, the XML languages (or applications, in XML terminology) of interest to technical communicators are probably DITA, DocBook, XHTML, SVG, MathML, and XLIFF.
But even if the argument is re-framed as “technical communicators shouldn’t have to learn how to code DITA”, the point is still missed. DITA is a writing tool, not a coding tool. In the same way that a 19th Century writer needed to learn how to use a pen, a 21st Century technical writer needs to know how to use DITA (or another mark-up approach).
What do you think?
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