Emerging Trends: Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) and Wikis

One of my favorite aspects of my job is how every single day I am learning new things.  Today, I stumbled upon DITA.  I have heard DITA mentioned once or twice but never knew what it was. Today I researched it a little bit.  This site has a good overview and description.

“The Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) is an XML-based, end-to-end architecture for authoring, producing, and delivering technical information. This architecture consists of a set of design principles for creating “information-typed” modules at a topic level and for using that content in delivery modes such as online help and product support portals on the Web.”

An example of online help content using DITA XML and a CMS is the Autodesk WikiHelp Page.  A lot of tech writers are using wikis for their help content.  That is another area that I am exploring.  {A wiki is a website that can be modified by multiple people.  Wiki means “quick” in Hawaiian.  Some companies use them to provide a community-like feel by allowing users to help author the software documentation. The best, and most obvious example of a wiki is Wikipedia. Genius invention, even though it isn’t 100% reliable.}

A frequent topic of discussion is how to present online help content in new and interesting ways.  In fact, I was once asked that very question in a job interview.  As a writer, the thought at the front of mind whenever I’m writing user documentation is “What does the user want?”  I try to think of what I would want, and what examples of online help content have helped me the most.  (More often than not, I start with the search field in the online help or just go straight to google because I am looking for a quick answer so I can get back to work.)

I think that most people are like me, they want their questions answered in the shortest amount of time and the fewest steps as possible.  No one wants to read a 200 page manual to find out how to use the software or to answer a question that is holding them up from completing their work.  That’s why things like FAQ’s (frequently asked questions) and search fields are so instrumental; they rapidly provide users with answers.

I am constantly looking for new and creative ideas for presenting information in the MOST user-friendly, user-oriented way possible.  Recently, I started incorporating more Quick Starts, Tutorial Videos, and Walk-Through Guides into my documentation architecture.  I find that these guides rapidly provide users with just enough information to get them started performing the most commonly used tasks.

I am excited to learn more about wikis and DITA for authoring technical information.  Does anyone have any advice or examples of how they have used wikis and/or DITA?

2 thoughts on “Emerging Trends: Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) and Wikis

  1. Have you seen this ebook, DITA Best Practices, Video Enhanced Edition: A Roadmap for Writing, Editing, and Architecting in DITA? It may offer some of the “minimalist” user-friendly tools you speak of.

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