Is structure about code or about content?

Here’s a short one, cause I’m writing on a train to Nuremberg…

When writers are not used to structured authoring and have to adopt a standard like DITA, they tend to blame DITA and the new tools for complicating their lives. In the new process, the first thing writers notice is that they have to use elements they are not familiar with, and that there are various ways to use them.

Unless they go through training on structured authoring, they start with the wrong plan, that the unstructured text (and thinking) would just have to be mapped to the new structure, as “structure” would be about code, not about writing.

Indeed, the XML code sets a valid structure to the topics, but there is more to structure than applying DITA elements. Documentation can benefit from the principles of structured authoring even without adopting a certain standard. You can do your project research and information model, define your own house rules and styles, to provide consistent, minimalistic, reusable documentation, in almost any authoring environment.

Do not blame DITA or the tools, that you have to structure your procedures or your lists of parameters in a certain way. Ideally, you would have seen the need for that structure before, and thanked Heaven (or the DITA committee) when the standard came and you rushed with the business case to your team and managers.

Happy DIT’ing!

2 thoughts on “Is structure about code or about content?

  1. Thanks for this excellent article!

    It may be approriate, though, to talk about “TBSA” (Topic-based Structured Authoring) since “Structured Authoring” is a very “old” concept (’70s) that is not exactly matching with the DITA requirements. TBSA is used by our colleague Leigh White from IXIASOFT.

    It would be highly interesting to continue the discussion at the newt DITA Europe conference, scheduled 18-19 november in Munich. The Call for Papers is running until August 1, 2014:

    – Call for papers available:

    • TBSA is definitely more precise, thank you.
      I am looking forward to DITA Europe, as always, and hopefully we meet at some events even sooner. I appreciate your interest in this topic.

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