Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Guided DITA Authoring Solution Overview

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We've had past blog posts about how Oxygen can be used to impose various editing behaviors for your team. In this blog post, we are going to try to bring all of these solutions together in a comprehensive overview.

Learning to Work with DITA and Oxygen

You can find useful links for learning to edit DITA using Oxygen in this previous blog post: http://blog.oxygenxml.com/2016/03/resources-for-learning-dita-with-oxygen.html.

Migrating to DITA

There are multiple reasons why you would want to migrate from unstructured content to structured: http://blog.oxygenxml.com/2015/12/migrating-to-structured-standards-based.html.

This older blog post details some possibilities of migrating Word documents to DITA: http://blog.oxygenxml.com/2016/05/how-to-migrate-from-word-to-dita.html. You also have ways to migrate from XML-based standards (like DocBook or XHTML to DITA) using a set of predefined transformation scenarios.

Restricting the Visual Editing Experience

The entire visual editing experience using the Author editing mode in Oxygen is CSS driven. Oxygen has support for defining various CSS layers that can be applied when editing DITA content. For example, if you choose to create a Lightweight DITA topic in Oxygen, it has a special editing layer that allows it to be edited with a combination of buttons, hints, and form controls. This blog post details how a custom CSS used for editing can be created and shared with others:http://blog.oxygenxml.com/2016/10/customizing-dita-visual-editing.html.

Implementing Your own Style Guide

Let's say you are a team of technical writers collaborating on a DITA-based project and suppose that you have your own various best practices in regards to which elements to use and when to use them. So, at some point you gather a set of HTML resources that explain how various DITA elements should be used, you store them on an internal server, and you want all your team members to have access to that set of HTML resources directly from Oxygen. This blog post provides more details and useful links to help you get started: http://blog.oxygenxml.com/2016/03/implementing-your-own-style-guide.html

Imposing Controlled Attribute Values

If you want to impose DITA attribute values that need to be set for profiling or general use, this blog post should cover all you need to know about this: http://blog.oxygenxml.com/2015/07/controlled-attribute-values-for-your.html

Imposing Business Rules and Structure Restrictions to the DITA Content

In most cases, instead of relying on people to memorize numerous internal documentation style rules, you can convert many of these rules to Schematron and allow the application to automatically signal the content author when a rule is violated. You can also add quick fixes to show authors various ways to rectify the problem. This blog post contains more details about this: http://blog.oxygenxml.com/2015/05/schematron-checks-to-help-technical.html. The DITA framework can be extended in order to add new Schematron rules: http://blog.oxygenxml.com/2017/02/sharing-schematron-validation-rules.html.

Running Batch Validation Checks on all of Your DITA Content

The Validate and Check For Completeness tool available in the DITA Maps Manager view performs a lot of different consistency checks on all your DITA topics. It can also be used to apply Schematron business rules on all of your topics: http://blog.oxygenxml.com/2015/12/dita-map-validate-and-check-for.html.

Sharing DITA Editing Customizations with Your Team

Most of the custom editing behaviors, toolbar, and menu buttons that are available when editing DITA content are defined in the DITA framework configuration. A framework configuration's general anatomy is described here: http://blog.oxygenxml.com/2014/08/the-oxygen-sdk-part-2-frameworks.html.

The framework configuration can be shared with all of your team members. For example, here is a way to restrict team members from using certain DITA elements: http://blog.oxygenxml.com/2015/08/document-type-extension-sharing.html. Furthermore, here is a way to distribute new DITA file templates to your team: http://blog.oxygenxml.com/2015/12/sharing-new-custom-file-templates-for.html.

Sharing Global Application Settings with Your Team

Let's say you want all of your team members to enable the automatic spell checker when writing documentation, or you want all of them to use a custom term dictionary or a custom set of learned words. This older blog post offers some hints about how global Oxygen settings can be distributed to your team members: http://blog.oxygenxml.com/2015/11/sharing-application-settings.html.

Collaboration, Content Management, and Version Tracking

All major Component Management Systems (CMSs) have plugins that can be installed in Oxygen to provide access to the CMS: https://www.oxygenxml.com/partners.html#cmssolutionpartners. Even if you lack the funds to buy a commercial CMS, there are still plenty of open source version tracking solutions that allow collaboration for a single DITA project: http://blog.oxygenxml.com/2013/12/collaboration-teams-working-on-common.html. For example, the Oxygen User's Manual is written in DITA and we use a GitHub private repository to collaborate on it: http://blog.oxygenxml.com/2014/11/collaboration-for-documenting-software.html.

Allowing Subject Matter Experts to Review Content

Many technical writers are interested in having their content reviewed by the subject matter experts who are directly involved in building the tools. Oxygen has support for change tracking and adding comments directly in the edited content. Subject matter experts do not necessarily need to have the standalone version of Oxygen installed. The Oxygen Web Author is an online editing and reviewing solution that allows them to add comments and propose changes directly in the DITA content by using any device with a web browser (laptop, tablet, phone): https://www.oxygenxml.com/xml_web_author.html.

I hope this overview will help you to implement a complete guided authoring experience using Oxygen. As usual, if you have any questions or suggestions, they are welcome.

DITA Publishing Customization Overview

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Oxygen XML Editor publishes DITA content to various output sources using a bundled version of the DITA Open Toolkit (short name: DITA OT) publishing engine. Oxygen versions prior to version 20 come with two DITA OT versions:
  • DITA OT 1.8 located in the OXYGEN_INSTALL_DIR\frameworks\dita\DITA-OT folder.
  • DITA OT 2.x located in the OXYGEN_INSTALL_DIR\frameworks\dita\DITA-OT2.x folder.
while Oxygen version 20 comes bundled only with DITA OT 2.x located in the folder specified above. You can find out the exact version of DITA OT bundled with Oxygen by looking in the main menu Help->About at the Frameworks tab.

DITA Open Toolkit Overview

The DITA Open Toolkit is an open source publishing engine which can publish DITA content to various output sources like XHTML, PDF or Windows Help (CHM). Because has a plugin-based architecture, it can be extended with extra plugins which either define new formats for conversion or customize an existing conversion format. You can run the DITA OT from Oxygen using its transformation scenarios or you can run it directly from a command line:http://www.dita-ot.org/dev/topics/building-output.html.

The DITA OT bundled with Oxygen contains more plugins than the standard DITA OT which can be downloaded from the DITA OT official web site. For example it contains pre-installed plugins for converting DITA content to Word, EPUB, Oxygen WebHelp or to publish to PDF using CSS to customize the output:http://blog.oxygenxml.com/2017/03/useful-dita-ot-plugins.html

Publishing Customizations (Before you begin)

Some customizations, usually for HTML-based output can be made only by creating a custom CSS and they do not involve modifying the DITA OT engine in any way. But most customizations might involve adding a new plugin to the DITA OT. So here are some best practives before you begin your customization:
  1. Copy the bundled DITA OT folder (usually OXYGEN_INSTALL_DIR\frameworks\dita\DITA-OT2.x) to a location outside of Oxygen. This will allow you to have full write access to the folder in order to install new plugins:https://www.oxygenxml.com/doc/versions/20.0/ug-editor/topics/dita-ot-install-plugin.html.
  2. In the Oxygen Preferences->DITA page set the default used DITA OT distribution to be the external copied one. This will mean that Oxygen will use for DITA validation and publishing the external DITA OT. After doing this you will be able to upgrade the used Oxygen version and benefit of all editing-related improvements without affecting the publising system.
  3. Share that external DITA OT copy with the rest of the team. If you are using for collaboration a repository like Subversion, Git you can commit the entire modified DITA OT publishing engine as part of your project. This will allow everybody else in your team to use for publishing an engine containing the official changes that you made. And this will allow you to also set up some kind of automatic publishing system using an open source integration server like Travis.

Customizing the XHTML-based outputs

Usually XHTML-based outputs can be modified by using a custom CSS stylesheet to override various styles. If you edit an XHTML-based transformation scenario in Oxygen, there is a parameter called args.css which can be set to point to your custom CSS and a parameter called args.copy.css which can be set to yes in order to copy the CSS to the output folder. To know what CSS styles to override you can use your web brower’s CSS Inspector tools to look at the produced HTML output. The same parameters can be set when publishing from a command line: http://www.dita-ot.org/dev/topics/html-customization-css.html.

You can also create plugins to customize the XHTML-based outputs by adding for example an extra XSLT stylesheet:http://blog.oxygenxml.com/2013/12/creating-simple-dita-open-toolkit.html. A list with all DITA OT XSLT extension points can be found here: http://www.dita-ot.org/dev/extension-points/plugin-extension-points-xslt-import.html.

Customizing the Oxygen WebHelp-based output

Oxygen’s DITA OT comes bundled with specific plugins developed by Oxygen allowing publishing DITA content to WebHelp Classic and WebHelp Responsive outputs. Oxygen’s User’s Guide has detailed topics about how to customize these outputs:https://www.oxygenxml.com/doc/versions/20.0/ug-editor/topics/wh-responsive-customization-tips.html#wh-responsive-customization-tips.

Customizing the PDF Classic output

The DITA to PDF output can be customized either by creating a PDF customization folder in which case the DITA OT folder will not be modified at all or by creating a PDF customization plugin: https://www.oxygenxml.com/doc/versions/20.0/ug-editor/topics/dita-pdf-output.html. There is also a book called DITA For Print which contains details about how to customize various aspects.

Customizing the DITA + CSS to PDF output

In recent versions Oxygen added a new transformation scenario called DITA Map PDF - WYSIWYG which allows you to use CSS to style the PDF output, lowering the required knowledge for implementing a PDF customization. There is an entire chapter in the Oxygen users manual covering various PDF customization details: https://www.oxygenxml.com/doc/versions/20.0/ug-editor/topics/dcpp_the_customization_css.html#dcpp_the_customization_css.