DITA and User Assistance
This topic describes the relationship between DITA and user assistance and Help systems in particular.
DITA can be used in the process of creating user assistance, and especially of Help systems, but is not currently (and
may never be) used as a user assistance format itself.
DITA is a storage and authoring format, not a delivery format; it is a presentation-neutral format. The separation of
content and form is fundamental to DITA's design; content is written in DITA, and must be transformed to a reading
format before it can be delivered to the reader.
In principle, content written in DITA can be transformed to any reading format. In practice, it's not that simple. Before
DITA can be transformed, a transformation process has to be devised. Many DITA authoring and publishing tools come
with standard transformers for most common delivery formats, such as PDF, RTF and HTML. The DITA Open Toolkit,
an open source collection of utilities and documentation to help writers work with DITA, includes basic transformers
for PDF, RTF, HTML, DocBook, Eclipse Help, and Microsoft
User assistance content is not deﬁned by its format. A document in Microsoft HTML Help format isn't necessarily a
Help system; user assistance is deﬁned by the nature of the content. Conversely, user assistance content doesn't have to
be delivered in a traditional Help format.
DITA promotes a single-source approach to documentation, so user assistance may commonly be one of a number of
deliverables produced from a repository of information topics. The process of producing simple Help systems from
DITA content using the standard DITA Open Toolkit transformers is straight-forward. It is a little more complicated to
deliver such DITA-generated content for context-sensitive Help, but still readily achievable. Likewise, in principle, it
is a trivial matter to incorporate DITA content into embedded user assistance and user interface elements, using standard
XML tools and techniques. There is not yet a standard approach to user assistance, so there is also no standard way of
using DITA in this way. Different organisations tend to develop their own individual, custom approaches, using inhouse
technical expertise to do so.
Moving beyond simple Help systems, however, is currently difﬁcult, but not impossible. The DITA Technical Committee
is developing some changes to the DITA standard to allow these processes to be simpliﬁed. However, the apparent
simplicity or complexity of using DITA for Help authoring will be in future determined by the capabilities of DITA
editing and publishing tools. When it comes down to it, DITA is just a standard, and good tools are needed to work with
Definition of DITA Help
This topic details how the OASIS DITA Help Subcommittee deﬁnes the term DITA Help.
DITA Help, as deﬁned by the OASIS DITA Help SC (DHSC), is:
A set of recommendations for the design and implementation of commonly recognized user assistance components using
the DITA architecture. These components include, but are not limited to, navigation components, context-sensitive
linking, embedded Help, browse sequences, associative links, window deﬁnitions. The recommendations can be used
as a foundation for the development of authoring models and tools to support solutions in a variety of formats and for
a variety of platforms.
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