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Maintaining a Healthy DITA Project

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How should a Happy and Healthy Documentation Project Look Like?

Do you have a Healthy Project?

  • Focus on writing and not on workflow.

  • Involve peer-reviews, SMEs and end users.

  • Easy start for first-time contributors.

  • Easier produce deliverables and correct errors in older deliverables.

  • Allow for future evolution: more writers, more outputs, more content, more products.

Why do big companies use the DITA standard?

  • Standard means owning your content and no vendor lock-in (editing or publishing).

  • DITA works very well with topic-based authoring.

  • Lots of content reuse potential.

  • Reuse lowers translation costs.

DITA Doc Project Aspects

  • Storage

  • Workflow

  • Collaboration

    • Sharing Common Constraints (editing, validation, spell check dictionaries, ...)

  • Structure

    • Managing links and reusable content

  • Translation

  • Publishing (Producing Deliverables)


  • Commercial content management systems (CMS).

  • Open Source version control systems: Git, Subversion, CVS

Version Control

  • Ability to Tag Releases and Create Branches.

  • See history for resources.

Working with the storage system

  • Commercial CMSs – Remote editing, locking.

  • Open Source version control systems – Local working copies, no editing restrictions → conflicts.

    Hint: Maybe you can use the same storage system as software developers in your company.

Collaboration and Workflow

  • We invest a lot of time each day collaborating with our team or external collaborators.

  • Collaboration should be as comfortable as possible.


Issue tracking

  • Using workflow features in the CMS

  • Using issue management systems like Bugzilla, Atlassian JIRA or Trello.

    • Tip: Linking the product development with the documentation development.

Issue Tracking Examples

Custom workflows

  • Documentation task specific workflow

  • Integrate QA and documentation in software development process

Issue tracking – Simple Documentation Workflow

Issue tracking – Development and Documentation Workflow

Issue Tracking and Storage Integration

Issue Tracker can provide a single place where you can monitor a ticket from start to end, including:

Issue description and details

  • Who worked on that issue

  • What was changed in the application

  • What was changed in the documentation

  • Who should be notified when issue is resolved.

Involving Subject Matter Experts

  • SMEs provide original content (DITA or Markdown or ...)

  • Let SMEs review the published output.

    • HTML with feedback forms

    • PDF with comments.

    • Formal review with web editing tool integrated with storage system.

    • Informal review DITA content using change tracking and comment capabilities

How can end users collaborate with us?

  • Send feedback via email/forum/phone.

  • Send feedback in the published HTML output.

  • Give feedback using an online DITA editing tool with comment-only capabilities.

Contribution Consistency

Sharing common settings between writers

  • Custom style guide.

  • Specific editing enhancements.

  • Specific validation settings.

  • Controlled attribute values.

  • Custom spell and auto-correct dictionaries.

  • Various other common preferences.

Custom Style Guide

The style guide is internal documentation about how to write documentation.

How can we remember what’s written in the style guide?

  • Searchable help output from internal style guide.

  • Find an automatic way to impose style guide rules when editing.

Automating Style Guide Rules

Schematron Checks to help Technical Writing

  • Schematron to add custom validation rules.

  • Schematron Quick Fixes to propose quick fixes for each custom error message.

Using the same terminology rules

Checking Terminology with Oxygen XML Editor

  • Custom Spell dictionaries.

  • Custom auto-correct mappings.

  • Advanced terminology checkers like Acrolinx, HyperSTE or LanguageTools.

  • Building your own terminology checker using Schematron.

DITA Project Structure

  • Organizing various resources in various folders

  • Some CMSs may not consider this relevant.

File and folder naming/organization conventions

  • By type:

    • Tasks/t_installation.dita

    • Concepts/c_profiler.dita

  • By semantics:

    • xslt_debugger/backmapping.dita

    DITA Style Guide

Managing Content Reuse

DITA Reuse Strategies

  • Separate folders containing reusable content.

  • Keep dictionaries of reusable components

  • Prefer indirect references (conkeyrefs)

Managing Links

DITA Linking Strategies

  • Prefer indirect links (key references)

  • Reuse link targets

  • Re-direct links depending on publication

  • Use relationship tables

Project-wide refactor operations

  • Convert between various topic types.

  • Rename or move one or more topics.

  • Change XML structure in topics from the entire project.

    • Example: Change the value of a specific attribute.


Translating your DITA Project

  • You create your content in the primary language using a DITA authoring tool .

  • Send a copy of the relevant DITA files to the localization service provider (LSP).

  • Receive translated DITA content back from (LSP).

Optimizing for translation


  • Map-wide Validation and Consistency Checks

  • Validate each topic according to DITA standard.

  • Check for broken links, key references and content references, missing images or referenced resources.

  • Check for broken links to remote web sites.

  • Check for broken links in the context of profiling filters.

Producing the deliverables

  • Checking the project before publishing.

  • Sharing publishing customizations

  • Automatic production of deliverables either via CMS or via an automated open source server (Jenkins).

Useful links


A healthy DITA project needs to:

  • Be Manageable.

  • Allow for scalability.

  • Allow for easy collaboration.

  • Allow for detection and correction of mistakes before the deliverables are published.

  • Allow for correction of mistakes after the deliverables are published.

But don’t panic if you do not have all the aspects of a project covered, your project does not need to be perfect, it needs to be perfectible.