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Information Typing

DITA is built on a process of information typing that you probably already use when you break off conceptual content, procedural content, and reference content into their own sections in a larger document. DITA breaks your documentation down into information types called topics. Topics focus on a single subject that can stand alone as a self-contained chunk of content. This means that each topic only contains relevant information and should not require additional resources to understand the information. By organizing your writing this way, you enable greater reuse opportunities and provide easily understandable information to your audience.

DITA content is broken down into three main topic types:

Topic TypeDescriptionExample
ConceptProvides conceptual information about something. Answers the question "What is...?"Introduction to your Toaster
TaskProvides procedural information that tells you how to perform a task. Answers the question "How do I...?"Cleaning your Toaster
ReferenceProvides supporting information, typically in tables, such as specifications.Toaster Technical Information

Concepts

At its essence, a concept topic answers the question, "What is...?". Concept topics provide contextual information that is needed to understand a product or system functionality as a whole.

Conceptual topics help readers tie their existing knowledge to a new product or task. If you provide instructions for "Installing the OS-XT29", your reader might wonder what the OS-XT29 is, how it differs from other versions, what it does, and more. Concept topics provide those missing pieces of information.

This concept is used as an introduction for a toaster manual:

Classic Toaster Introduction

The Classic Toaster™ is the one-of-a-kind, classic breakfast machine you wanted since you were old enough to eat solid food. Have perfect slices of delight with your favorite jam or butter. Easily achieve exquisitely toasted bagels with a push of a button.

Classic Toaster

Tasks

Task topics answer the question "How do I?". They provide step-by-step information that tell a user how to do something. Task topics are the heart of DITA content. They provide the core information readers are looking for in documentation. That is, task topics provide information users need to achieve their goal, for example, configure something. Concept and reference topics supplement task topics with information related to the task topic content that doesn't belong in the task topic itself.

The basic task structure goes as follows:

  1. Title: Name of task
  2. Pre-requisite: What the reader needs to know prior to performing the task
  3. Task steps: Step-by-step instructions
  4. Result: Outcome of completing the task
You can use some or all of this structure to establish a content standard. Having a title and steps could be mandatory but a pre-requisite could be optional. There are additional elements that can be added to a task, such as step results or sub-steps.

Here's an example of a task topic in the toaster manual:

Toasting Bread

Toast bread to the perfect doneness using your Classic Toaster.

Pre-requisite

You will need: Sliced bread, the toaster, an outlet, and a spread (if desired).

Task Steps

  1. Plug toaster plug into outlet.
    Figure 1: Plug toaster into outlet
  2. Insert sliced bread into bread holes located at the top of the toaster.

  3. Adjust the timer for how long you want to cook the toast.

  4. Press the lever down.
    Figure 2: Insert bread and press down lever
  5. When toast pops up, remove from the toaster and place on a plate.
    Figure 3: Take toast out when toaster pops-up
  6. Use desired spread on top of toast.
    Figure 4: Add butter or jam

Result

Your toast is ready. Eat it before it gets cold!

References

Reference topics provide supplemental or technical information on a product.

You can use reference topics to provide information such as product dimensions, equipment lists, parts lists, required tools, or the functions of a product or service.

Here's an example of a reference topic used in a toaster manual:

Classic Toaster Technical Information

Classic Toaster dimensions, weight, and other technical information.

Table 1. Classic Toaster Technical Information
NameValue
Capacity1 or 2 slices
Output per hour30 slices
Loading (kW)2.2
Dimensions (cm)36 x 21 x 22
Weight (kg)4.25
Slot width28mm
MaterialsCast aluminum ends, stainless steel body