Manager’s guide to DITA: Dealing with the documentation headache when integrating products from different suppliers

Often, an organisation will sell a system that is packaged with a number of products and services from partner suppliers: a car will include a radio, a telephony system will include handsets, and so on.

In the same way that the system needs to integrate all the various components from different suppliers, creating the user documentation can create a challenge: How do you take existing content from partners and incorporate it in your documentation set?

Using DITA is one way to make this process less of a headache. DITA is an XML schema for writing that builds content reuse into the authoring process. The content is written as modular topics (as opposed to long “book-oriented” files), which means chunks of text can be easily reused for different purposes.

The format aspects of the content (the font size, colour etc) are stored away from the topics themselves, so you can take content from various sources and easily set a uniform “look and feel”.

DITA also allows for conditional text, so product names can changed easily, depending on circumstances.

It may also mean you can re-use chunks translated into different languages, saving you the time and money needed to translate that content yourself.

So if you a wrestling with user content originating from various suppliers, it may be worth taking a serious look at DITA.

2 Comments

Larry Kunz

Thanks, Ellis. You’re right: Handling source content from many different sources is a great use case for DITA. We see this with mergers and acquisitions as well as with the scenario you describe here.

As you’ve pointed out in the past, the rise of social media and “community based” documentation is also forcing technical communicators to deal with source content from many different sources. Thus the case for DITA becomes even stronger.

Julio Vazquez

Absolutely, Ellis. One of the strengths of DITA is that it can be a common currency for information interchange. This ability becomes increasingly important as companies are acquired by others or as more alliances are formed. All organizations will require an easy way to rebrand existing content to a single entity and DITA has the infrastructure to enable easy transitions of this sort.

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