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am 20. Februar 2013
DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) is a remnant from the XML-happy years around 2000 when the belief that many forms of data can be squeezed into formal DTD (Document Type Definitions) or Schema. DITA originated with IBM in their effort to document their own products. The specification tries to capture how technical information, aka manuals, should be structured. The main notion is that of a topic, which can be anything that forms a coherent, essentially self-contained part of technical documentation. Some of todays editing systems use DITA as data standard, but not every such system follows DITA. As with many early standards, DITA suffers from lack of flexibility, while at the same time overburdening end users with formal structure. But DITA is still around and continues to be used. It certainly remains a good starting point if you need to find some form of formal information structure for technical documentation.

'DITA best practices' is a very pragmatic book, which gets you up and running with DITA very quickly. Part 1 explains various notions of topics that make up the information content of a DITA conforming document. Part 2 looks at the architectural extras like linking between documents or metadata. Part 3 tries to be practical by paving your way towards applying DITA in your own work context. Parts 1 and 2 are very hands on and explain the formal XML-elements and attributes by way of easy example. In particular, the authors do a very good job at visually showing how the example documents get structured the DITA way without throwing formal XML-documents into the way of your understanding. If you need to get acquainted with DITA, these first two parts do a very good job at getting you there. Part 3, on the other hand, suggested to me rather that DITA may not be the most practical way of doing technical documentation. Instead of being too bothered by this part, you may want to look at professional editing systems based on DITA (or similar) to see what working with formal technical documents entails.

The present book promises best practices, but more than that it is a very readable introduction to DITA, and it avoids the bits-and-pieces mentality of many best-practices books. You may wonder what effort it would take to convert the book into DITA. I certainly wondered whether the book was written on the basis of DITA. A nagging suspicion remains that this may just not be the case. Which may have to do with the limitations of this standard.
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