The default mode for technical communications is basic, narrative-style unstructured content. It is easy to understand why, since most technical writing groups start out small in terms of members and products to document. A non-structured approach is the easiest way to start. As a company matures and its product line diversifies, the old way of doing documentation becomes more costly and unable to meet a company’s needs.
There comes a point when structured content becomes a necessity not only to meet the demands of the global market, but also to provide the flexibility to meet the demands of those using its products. If you are going to use structured content, it makes the most business sense to go with an existing standard so your writing team can leverage the development effort and toolset that went into that standard.
Why Use Structured Content?
While there is an initial investment in tools, capital, and training to move a documentation team to structured authoring, the benefits are worth it. In the long term, costs are reduced and there are more options for content delivery. Some of the benefits include:
- Greatly reduced localization costs
- More consistent product information
- Improved SEO as prospective customers discover better targeted content
- Internal efficiencies as writers reuse content more effectively
Companies around the world who use structured content can testify—all these points have long been proven in practice. While these benefits are feasible when using a proprietary system for structuring content, additional factors drive most firms to choose an open, structured content standard.
Why Go with a Structured Content Standard?
There are several sound business reasons for wanting to work with an open, structured content standard. One of the obvious benefits is that an open standard that has successfully been deployed by other organizations for at least a decade has already been vetted from a business perspective. In other words, all the hard work has already been done by other companies. Your company can gain the benefits of the business “smarts” that has already been built into the standard.
Other key reasons for wanting to go with an open, structured content standard include:
- Interoperability between systems
- No vendor lock-in; off-the-shelf tools
- Ability to easily exchange content in a common format between vendors
- Access to a wide range of dynamic delivery software
- A wider community for support and use case advice
In addition to these points, you are future-proofing content, paving the way for new interactive technologies like chatbots that are being built on open structured content standards.
So Where Does DITA Fit in?
The Darwin Information Typing Architecture (“DITA” for short), is an open structured content standard, that has been in use since 2005. It is the most popular structured content standard, and is used worldwide at over 700 firms across a diverse range of technology sectors. DITA continues to gain significant traction. As it has matured, software vendors have in turn created writing tools, content management systems, and dynamic delivery systems tailored to it.
DITA has become the de facto way to do structured content, and has become a competitive advantage for those firms that use it. Why not yours?
Senior DITA Content Strategist at IXIASOFT
Keith is IXISOFT’s Senior DITA Content Strategist. He is also an award-winning lecturer on Information Architecture at the University of Toronto’s School for Continuing Education. He is the Chair of the OASIS DITA Adoption Committee, regularly presents at conferences, and works with customers. Keith continuously researches how DITA is being used and then shares those results with the community. Keith’s popular industry blog DITAWriter.com has become a focal point on DITA resources.
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