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Addressing DITA Dissatisfaction Part 1: Skills Development


By Rob Hanna – President of Precision Content

This article is part of a series based on the results of a survey of more than 250 technical communication professionals conducted by The Content Wrangler in 2017 entitled The DITA Satisfaction Survey[i]. In the survey, almost two-thirds of respondents voiced concerns with their DITA deployment.

In our previous article, we introduced the overall results from the survey that pertain to users’ dissatisfaction with their DITA solution. In this article, we examine the top rated issues pertaining to skills development.

Issues related to skills development

The top-ranked reported issues fall under the category of skill development and training. These include

  • How do I reuse content? Ranked 1st by 75% of respondents
  • How do I make DITA do what I want it to do? Ranked 2nd by 69% of respondents
  • Where can I get DITA training? Ranked 3rd by 64% of respondents, and
  • How do I create DITA content? Ranked 8th by 56% of respondents.

This problem area is far and away the most pressing obstacle for a successful DITA deployment. Too often authors are left to figure out how to adapt to writing for DITA on their own. Organizations will normally invest in tools training—and may even opt for a short training course to learn about DITA—but they rarely make the effort to train writers how to author modular, structured topics of content designed for reuse.

It is easy to overlook this training aspect and assume that writers will naturally adapt to this new way of writing. But, those assumptions can lead to big problems.

In a poll conducted in a recent webinar[ii] where half of the participants indicated they were already using DITA, a full 70% indicated that they had no formal DITA training. Of those participants, nearly 60% were self-taught while the others had no training at all. It’s no wonder that dissatisfaction is the norm.

Selecting the best training for your needs

There are many training options available to learn about DITA. Selecting the best training for your team entails examining what it is you need to learn. Most DITA training courses cover the features and walk you through the structures and mechanics of the standard. These courses demonstrate how to markup content, but will often not teach you how to rethink and restructure your content to take advantage of DITA’s features. Consider the differences between structured writing and structured markup.

Structured Writing  Structured Markup
  • Coined by Robert Horn in the 1960’s as a means of analyzing, organizing, and presenting information for optimal human consumption
  • Allows authors to markup words, phrases, and sections of content for presentation and for meaning for consumption by machines
  • Promotes patterns for format and syntax that become easily recognizable and predictable
  • Is validated using standard sets of rules that specify consistent and predictable patterns
  • Relies on consistently labelling and chunking information into easily scannable text
  •  Specifies what content goes where but does not limit or restrict how the content is written
  • Introduces universal information typing based on intended reader response
  • Provides a rich underlying metadata layer for capturing properties related to the content

Table reproduced from “Driving Enterprise Productivity from the Front of the DITA XML Train[iii]”.

Continuous collaborative learning

Organizations that wisely invest in comprehensive training for their writing teams also recognize the importance of continuous learning and recurring training. To stay on top of knowledge sharing in your team, consider the following collaboration activities:

  • Schedule regular checkpoints where your team discusses what they’ve learned with other members of the team.
  • Assign different members of your team to research and present best practices at regularly scheduled lunch-and-learn sessions.
  • Attend webinars and seminars on best practices as a group and then debrief together to discuss aspects that should be incorporated into your day-to-day work.
  • Review and update your content standards regularly as a team to keep your procedures and guidelines current and relevant.
  • Pair up senior members of your team with new or junior members for regular mentoring and coaching. 


Precision Content® Structured Author Training

Precision Content has many years of experience teaching organizations how to write better structured content. Our inhouse, instructor-led training courses run from 1 to 5 days depending on your needs and cover the gamut of tools and techniques needed for successful structured authoring. Learn more about our DITA training. Or contact Precision Content to find out more about how we can address your specific training needs.

Other Posts in this series

  • Are you satisfied with your DITA solution? -The 2017 Content Wrangler DITA Satisfaction Survey asked respondents to rank the top 10 issues facing DITA users. Learn more about the survey and results.
  • DITA Dissatisfaction Part 2: Technology – We often hear about the failure of the technology as it relates to performance or complexity. While technology may seem the most likely culprit, it is often not the root cause of the problem.
  • DITA Dissatisfaction Part 3: Management – While these issues appear to be of least concern to many survey respondents, they are most likely to form the root cause of all other issues identified in the survey. This points to a general lack of awareness as to the role management should be playing in collaborative, structured authoring solutions.


[i] DITA Satisfaction Survey published by The Content Wrangler on May 31, 2017. Listen to an analysis of the results by Rob Hanna, Keith Schengili-Roberts, Mark Lewis, and Scott Abel and download a copy of the results today from BrightTalk at

[ii] The Cognitive Science Behind Intelligent Content presented by Rob Hanna on July 21, 2016. See for details.

[iii] Driving Enterprise Productivity from the Front of the DITA XML Train presented by Rob Hanna and Doug Gorman at DITA North America 2017 in San Diego, CA.


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