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What happens when you apply Charles Darwin’s concepts of specialization, adaption, and inheritance to information architecture? Keep reading to find out.

First things first – DITA stands for Darwin Information Typing Architecture. It’s an Extensible Markup Language (XML)-based open standard for developing, managing, structuring, and publishing content for print as well as for the web. Unlike a Word document (which produces a static piece of content), each piece of DITA content represents a unique XML file. By standardizing content, DITA makes reuse across multiple publications a snap. DITA is principally used in the computer software, information technology, telecoms, and medical device industries, but it’s consistently expanding into a variety of new industries.

Where does Charles Darwin enter the picture?

DITA is more than just a methodology – it’s a philosophy. Darwin’s theory of natural selection is based on the idea that species adopt traits from their parents. DITA incorporates the same notions of inheritance, specialization, and adaptation – just in a different field! Because all DITA topic types and elements exist in a “parent-child” relationship, inheritance and specialization are crucial.  

Why use DITA?

A narrative-style approach to technical writing, where an author begins at page 1, is not a workable solution once updates, product functionality variations, and localization are factored in. Because DITA forces authors to focus on single topics rather than a logical progression of chapters, the hardest part of implementing DITA is the adjustment to this paradigm shift. This can initially be a tough change, but the eventual benefits outweigh the initial learning curve. Other benefits of switching to DITA include:

  • DITA is organized into core topic types which allow you to reuse topics like building blocks to create any format you like.
  • Targeting different users with personalized documentation is straightforward. A medical device manufacturer that sells cardiac pacemakers but needs to provide different technical documentation for physicians and patients has their life made easier because with DITA, topics that are overly technical can be removed from the patient documentation.
  • Because DITA is based on XML, the content and format are separate. This means that arduous changes only need to be done once – your content will update automatically.
  • DITA increases productivity by encouraging collaboration. Because of its topic-based approach, multiple writers can work on the same document simultaneously.
  • Localization savings can also justify a move to DITA. Your business can quickly and easily identify new or changed topics for translation, meaning that you only need to translate content once.
  • Content and format are handled separately, so hours of desktop publishing (DTP) work are no longer necessary.

When it comes to allowing your global customers to access your content in any format they want, you may find that DITA to be a logical evolution. Take a look at how Argos Multilingual can help address the challenges of localizing DITA content in Part 2 of this series.