Session 1 from the CMS/DITA Convention – Best Practices for DITA in a Global Economy

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by David Kelly

I am pleased to report that I made an error about making an error. Do those cancel out to mean I didn’t make any errors, or does it mean… well, never mind. Suffice it to say I won’t be able to blog “live” from the convention center during this convention, so I’ll be catching up in the evenings from paper notes. No hasty indiscrections here, I’m afraid!

I will try to keep it to one entry per session to make the blog more “topic oriented.”

Session 1, given by Eric Severson, CTO of Flatirons Solutions, had the promising title “Best Practices for DITA in a Global Economy.” Possibly due to the extensive (i.e., painful) experience I’ve had with DITA the past several years, I was disappointed to find that two thirds of the presentation was an introduction to DITA. This was surprising since Eric had asked for a show of hands from those who had DITA experience, and probably two thirds of the room raised their hands.

The final third of the presentation focused on re-use of information and the kinds of issues it raises for localization. He recommended a process similar to the one his company uses, which they call a “DITA Maturity Model.” This process is used to analyze legacy content to determine what kind of rewriting/restructuring is needed when converting to topic-oriented DITA source. One part of this involves a “content architecture” or information architecture phase to identify reusable information. This involves a fairly granular examination of the text to determine what content is identical, or close to identical, so it can be put into a form for optimum re-use. By all accounts I heard today, the payoff for this extensive, up-front architectural work is reduced translation costs and ease of maintenance. More about that in a later entry.

Some tips he passed along: When writing topics for reusability, think about them as having no context and therefore having to stand alone. Try to stick to the standard form of DITA if possible — “Specializations can cause problems” for localization. He also recommended not using conrefs haphazardly, but thinking from a perspective of “editorial integrity.” By this he meant avoiding conrefs to fragments of information, but making them more context-free, stand-alone chunks.

And even though I complain about the long introduction, I did later overhear someone saying she was glad he gave the introduction, otherwise she would not have understood the rest of what he was talking about.

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