Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA)If you are involved in production of documentation that can benefit from chunking and reuse of various modules, you should know about DITA the Darwin Information Typing Architecture.
DITA was initially developed by IBM, which donated the system in 2004 to OASIS the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards. OASIS is now the body that maintains DITA standards.
As explained in IBM's 2001 "Introduction to the Darwin Information Typing Architecture," DITA
is an XML-based, end-to-end architecture for authoring, producing, and delivering technical information. This architecture consists of a set of design principles for creating "information-typed" modules at a topic level and for using that content in delivery modes such as online help and product support portals on the Web.Over the years, the variety of materials produced using DITA has expanded beyond technical documentation. Also, aesthetically aware authors have advanced beyond spare, default formatting. You can see a sample of recent DITA Web output that includes video here. This sample is an appealing contrast to more heavily text-based documentation, such as that here.
DITA's core design principles are:
Topic orientation DITA is used to create discrete units of information, each of which covers a specific subject with a specific intent.
Topic aggregation Self-contained topics are combined with other topics to produce documents suited for particular purposes and audiences.
Strong typing Document type defintions (DTDs) and schemas guarantee that DITA topic types follow identical information structures.
Specialization DITA enables extending basic topic types to new types adapted for a particular use.
Common base class A top-level topic type provides “fallback” for all specialized types. This ensures that content that contains specialized types is compatible with DITA implementations that do not include these particular types.
Once topics have been created, how some or all of them are used in a particular document is defined by a map. The map organizes the chosen set of topics into a hierarchy (topics and subtopics) and sequence. Use of maps enables a different organization for different deliverables. It also enables reuse of topics.
OASIS's DITA FAQ provides a good complement to the DITA knowledge base you can access here. For a practical guide to using DITA, you can read and work through Louise Kasemeier's 2007 manual and tutorial, DITA for Solo Writers (pdf).
One last point: The reason this architecture is named after Charles Darwin is explained here.