Table of contents


What is DITA?

Business case for DITA

Architecture overview

Implementing DITA versus implementing custom XML architecture


Implementing DITA versus implementing custom XML architecture

With a basic understanding of DITA, it’s time to tackle the $64,000 question: Should you use DITA for your content? First, you need to determine whether XML in general makes sense for your content requirements. If you decide that XML is appropriate, take a look at DITA. The following table outlines a few possible scenarios.



Content must conform to a specific standard, such as S1000D (manufacturing and aerospace), SPL (Structured Product Labeling, pharmaceuticals), or NewsML (newspaper articles).

Use the required standard.

DITA, out of the box, meets all requirements.


A customer or business partner requires you to deliver DITA content.


Content contains lengthy narratives that cannot be broken into reasonable modular chunks.

DITA is probably not a good fit. Consider a different standard, perhaps DocBook, or build your own.

Single sourcing is a requirement. No existing content. Can be flexible with markup requirements in exchange for quicker implementation.

DITA is a good fit.

DITA is not an exact match; customization would be required.

Compare the cost of DITA customization to the cost of custom implementation.

Markup requirements are industry-specific, complex, and strict.

Look for an existing standard in your industry or build a custom structure.

For a detailed discussion of XML implementation, refer to our Managing implementation of structured authoring white paper.

Any XML implementation project should begin with an assessment of the business reasons for moving to XML and an analysis of current and future content requirements. Once you understand your requirements, determine how closely DITA matches your content requirements.

If DITA provides a reasonable match, you need to conduct additional research on specialization, the Open Toolkit, software support, content migration, modular writing, and the like. Before you decide to implement DITA, it’s critical to understand all of the issues—DITA is much more than just a DTD.

Using DITA or another preconfigured solution out of the box is less expensive than creating a custom XML structure and the publishing workflow to support that XML. As your customization requirements increase, however, there comes a tipping point where the cost of massaging the standard structure becomes greater than the cost of a custom build.

You must also consider the quality issues: How close to your exact markup requirements can you get starting from a DITA base? How important is it to match your requirements? Can you compromise? Are there existing specializations that you can leverage instead of doing your own? What sort of documentation and training are required to ensure your content creators are successful in the new environment?

DITA is the result of thousands of hours of research and development. It provides a graceful stepping stone into XML-based authoring. It is not, however, the only way to implement XML.


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