By Tommy Nicolls
DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) is a versatile and widely used standard for content creation that is usually implemented using an XML editor. It is a structured authoring standard, or framework, that separates content and format. One of the major characteristics of DITA is that the smallest unit of content is a “topic”. A DITA topic is freestanding, reusable content that is focused on one specific subject. Standard DITA topics are categorized into three information types: concept, task, and reference. The process of dividing topics into categories based on their content is referred to as “information typing”.
Concept, Task, and Reference Topics
Each topic has one specific goal based on its information type:
- Concept topics help the user understand an idea or the purpose of an instruction. They often provide the user with background information that they will need before they begin a task. An example of a concept topic is an article explaining a new type of computer program and its features.
- Task topics help the user to do something, typically with step-by-step instructions. Task topics typically use numbered lists to present instruction steps. An example of a task topic is a set of instructions on how to build a new chair.
- Reference topics give the user descriptions about something without explanation. This differs from a concept in that it does not require the reader to totally understand something; it is more concerned with providing them with facts. An example of this is the nutritional information for a beverage. Often this information is presented as a table.
Each information type has a standardized structure to serve its purpose. Because each topic has its clear and distinct goal and structure, it is easy for a user to find the exact information they need. This is what makes content accessible and usable.
Using DITA topics has many benefits. Some of the most valuable are reusability, scalability, and consistency. DITA structured authoring creates content that can be understood as standalone topics or within a larger context. One DITA topic can be reused for multiple publishing outputs, so there are no similar but different topics that could propagate discrepancies or inaccuracies through future edits. Content reuse, also known as single-sourcing, enables a change in one topic to be reflected in all the publishing outputs. DITA’s predefined structure allows the author to focus on the content itself, while still maintaining a consistent structure.
Resource for Learning More
Topic, Concept, and Reference are the most widely recognized DITA information types. There are also other types of DITA topics that have different standards and goals than the topics listed above. You can learn more about the other kinds of DITA topics, as well as how to use them, by signing up for a free course at Learning DITA.These courses will give you a better idea how DITA topics present content in real-world settings.