What is DITA?

The Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA) is an open standard for Extensible Markup Language (XML) that is used to create, structure, and distribute content. DITA was developed at IBM. But its widespread adoption can be attributed to DITA becoming an open standard. At its essence, it's a methodology for writing basic building blocks of content that can be organized and reused easily across platforms.

What does "DITA" mean?

"DITA" stands for Darwin Information Typing Architecture.

"Darwin" refers to the Charles Darwin, who developed the scientific concept of trait inheritance. In DITA, this refers primarily to the parent-child relationships of topics. A child inherits traits, or attributes, from their parent.

Information Typing does not refer to actually typing information on a keyboard, but rather to the categorization of information. DITA uses a structured approach to authoring, including defined topic types and elements. For example, a concept topic conveys conceptual information and a task topic contains procedural information.

IBM defines DITA in the following way:

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.

For more information, see DITA.

History of DITA

DITA was created by IBM, in 2001, to replace their clunky and difficult IBMDoc format. Once IBM realized the benefits of standardization for the technical writing industry, IBM gave DITA to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). In 2005, OASIS publicly released DITA.

How is DITA used today?

The reason DITA has spread across many industries is due to it being an open standard. Imagine how different the internet would be if HTML had not been open to the public.

Software and technology customers frequently use DITA to document their products. Manufacturers in many industries use DITA, for example manufacturers of hardware, semi-conductors, and medical devices. DITA is also used by e-learning companies, financial companies, policy and standards organizations, and many other industries.

Adopting the DITA standard has allowed these industries to make their document production and maintenance much more efficient and effective.

Let's look at an example of how this works.

Suppose you produce two models of some product, Model A and Model B. While the two models have some differences, Models A and B share a lot of the content. To write user manuals for each model using DITA, you create individual topics, such as an Introduction, Product Safety, Instructions, Product Specifications, and so on.

To create a user guide for each product, you create a separate map for each, Model A and Model B, and add the topics that are specific to each model in order to build a table of contents for each. Both models share, that is, reuse, some content in each manual while some content is specific to each model. The idea is that you write the shared content only once, and then both models can use the same topics. Then, when your guides are complete, you can publish to multiple media outputs with the push of a button.