CMS/DITA Conference Session 4: 7 Reuse Strategies for DITA

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by David Kelly

This session was presented by France Baril from Ixiasoft. I think by this time in the afternoon I was starting to need a cheeseburger fix – and not a fast food joint in sight. For each point Ms. Baril presented what it was, when to use it, how to do it, and what to watch out for. Here I will only give a brief description of the “whats” in hopes that the curious will ping me (or her) about the whys and hows.

The 7 types of re-use enabled by DITA that she presented were:

1. Multiple output types from one source. XML to PDF, HTML, etc.

2. Using the same topic in different projects and contexts. Basically, multiple DITA maps can point to the same topic, but in different orders or with different selections of companion topics.

3. Regular conditional text/filtering. This is the standard DITA mechanism of specifying an attribute and value on a topic (or other tags), then including or excluding that text based on a setting in a ditaval file.

4. “Systematic” conditional text/filtering. I was not familiar with this term. I somewhat lost the definition, but it appears to involve the use of DITA-specialized elements combined with custom XSL. The example was the use of a list type. In documents for a given audience, the content of the list would be introduced by a title “Benefits” (provided by the XSL) followed by the list items. For another audience the entire section would be omitted from the document. This method was suggested for use only when certain kinds of information would be extensively re-used since the initial setup was likely to be expensive.

5. Conrefs – this involved the standard DITA use of conrefs, which basically involve creating a piece of text in one place, then “conreffing” it from another. In the final document the conref is replaced by the reference text. See my comment in an earlier entry about thinking about conrefs as contextless, stand-alone units of information. (Hmm, maybe if this blogging application application supported DITA I could have used a conref!)

6. Variables for words and phrases. She mentioned the tag. In general she seemed to think this method was problematic for localization (and even English-to-English re-use) due to grammatical/syntactical issues.

7. Automatic content creation. This one involves using some kind of processing system to essentially “reap” the source one or more times to create a secondary document. Some examples were references to Doxygen and Javascript, which make selections from programming source code to create documentation. She also mentioned the example of creating a table of contents in a Word document. And in fact I have written XSL to generate entire chapters that consist of, essentially, linked headings to descriptions of software commands, which are organized according to different criteria in each chapter. One source, many outputs, but in this case they are in the same format in the same document. And a host of other possibilities are out there…

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