Some guidelines for which DITA elements to choose when the user has to choose from a drop down list (or radio button or similar).
Always choose a specific item from the drop down list
If the procedure will direct the user to always choose a specific item from the drop down list, use <uicontrol>. For example, if your product always has a local server even though the drop down menu offers an array of choices (local server or remote server):
<step> <cmd>Click <menucascade><uicontrol>Server Configuration</uicontrol><uicontrol>Local server</uicontrol></menucascade>.</cmd> </step>
Back in January we were still a bit unsure if the added complexity of the <prelreqs> element in DITA Machine Industry Task topics were worthwhile.
Ten months later, with hundreds and thousands of machine industry task topics under our belt, we are no longer on the fence. In fact, our default recommendation now is to use machine industry task topics by default, rather than the standard DITA strict task topics. (In DITA 1.2, strict DITA task topics are the good old fashioned task topics that you know and love.)
Unfortunately, out-of-the-box machine industry task topics are missing some key elements (such as <userinput>), so we have specialized the machine industry task topic type to make it more functional for most needs.
Kudos to the folks at SyncroSoft for implementing support in <oXygen/> 15.1 for right to left (RTL) languages. Support works quite nicely out of the box for content creators, editors and for publishing. Using the dir attribute you can control display in author mode as well as publishing. (Display of punctuation for RTL in text mode is still tricky!)
What it Means for DITA Authors
This means that DITA users can easily create and edit DITA content in Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Urdu and other right to left languages. You can mix content in left to right and right to languages in a single topic. By the way, if you’re curious about what other languages go from right to left and require bidrectional support in DITA, you can click here for a list of right-to-left languages.
The Oxygen XML Editor implements the Unicode Bidirectional Algorithm as specified by the Unicode consortium. The text arrangement is similar to what you get in a modern HTML browser. The final text layout is rendered according with the directional CSS properties matching the XML elements and the Unicode directional formatting codes.
What You Need to Set
To control display in output set the dir attribute on an element containing right to left characters.
For example: <p dir=”rtl“></p> would define the paragraph as right to left.
Need More Help for DITA?
Feel free to call or contact MethodM for any help that you might need with DITA. We are expert at DITA implementations, training, content audit, specializations, transformations and more. Looking forward to hearing from you soon!
Q. When can/should your team start markup mentoring? (Markup mentoring is sometimes referred to as a DITA audit or DITA tagging review)
A. As soon as your writers start working on DITA content, even with just a small amount of content that you might have for a pilot project.
As writers start working on DITA they will quickly adopt DITA authoring/editing habits – and it’s critical to get “best practices” ingrained from the get go. It’s more effective, easier, better and fun to go with best practices than slip into bad habits* and then have to unlearn them.
* Bad habit = markup that is not semantically meaningful or is hard to maintain
Q. How much content is needed before it makes sense to start?
A. Start as early as possible, before lots of content accumulates and “sunk costs” (or, in this case, “leaden content”) becomes an issue. This should be done from Day 1! If you have already started creating DITA content, the earlier you start markup mentoring the more effective your implementation will become.
“Semantic markup” sounds kind of esoteric, but it’s not. Correct use of DITA elements is an investment that will pay off rapidly in terms of usability, maintenance and support for all kinds of deliverables. If your content is marked up correctly, then you will be able to use all sorts of transforms for publishing, including support for needs that might only evolve a year or more down the road. Correct use of DITA elements, is key for supporting single-source to multiple channels and platforms. Taking the extra few moments up front to learn about how to implement the DITA elements makes writing faster, maintenance faster and opens up future publishing opportunities.
Up front in your DITA project, the emphasis should be on correct use of DITA elements (”semantic markup”). Choosing the DITA elements that reflect the structure of the content.
How does the content audit process work? As writers prepare content:
- the markup mentor – usually one of the DITA gurus at Method M – reviews and comments.
- writers can also ask questions as they write and get direction/feedback.
The overarching goal is to develop and reinforce “best practices”, from the get go, for the vanguard team moving to DITA — with the anticipation that the best practices will be incorporated in formal style/tagging guidelines, but even more importantly will become a part of the writing culture in your organization.
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Ongoing content audits, or – as we prefer to call it – markup mentoring bridges the gap from your DITA plan to your DITA implementation. Semantic markup mentoring will increase the effectiveness of your DITA content, reduce long term maintenance costs for content, and enable support for the fullest range of current and future publishing needs.
In the information architecture stage a lot of thought is given to a range of factors, including:
- what topic types should be used (machine industry tasks or strict task topic types, for example),
- what specializations may be needed (<sku>?, troubleshooting topic?),
- selecting semantically appropriate tags (<menucascade> and <uicontrol>),
- choosing elements that will enable fastest content creation and best presentation (<dl>, <table>, within an image, <title> or <desc>, nesting <ul> within <p), and more),
- enabling reuse (through appropriate use of variables, keyref, conref and more)
- applying conditions to enable focused content limited to “need to know”, without destroying writer productivity
- developing a related information approach using relationship tables and other mechanisms
- planning for minimizing translation cost and enabling pain free translation
Markup mentoring will help you and your writers successfully bridge from information architecture to robust semantically correct markup. The bottom line: we recommend markup mentoring to get the best results from your DITA implementation.
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Are you using the machine industry task? If so, I would love to hear from you.
We are recommending that a customer adopt the machine industry task as their standard task topic. We have considered some of the implications for efficiency for those tasks where not all of the tags are needed, but are still convinced that having the extra