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Subject: RE: [dita] Thoughts On Sections

One of the goals of instituting a new way of authoring and often a new
content management system is to begin with sound content. It would be a
better decision to leave legacy content out of the new system. You can
refer to it, include it in maps, but otherwise acknowledge that it does
not meet the new standards. 

If you spend much time and energy simply converting legacy content that
does not comply with a topic-based model, what have you accomplished?
For years, we saw organizations convert legacy content into XML DTDs
that emulated their existing information model perfectly. Aside from
possible cost savings in decreased production time, they didn't appear
to have gained much except to create an environment that made it more
cumbersome to author and review content. 

We need to have a discussion at some point about the process of
migrating to DITA. My advice to organizations is to transform the
content rather than migrate. Unless the legacy content is reasonably
well structured, you will end up with a repository or a collection of
topics that is not essentially different from your starting point. 

I don't believe it's the small organizations that have a problem. With
less legacy content and a solid analysis of what should be transformed
and what should be left outside of DITA/XML, small organizations with
continuously changing information should be able to transform their
existing content quickly and move to authoring new content. It's the
industries like telecommunications with enormous legacy content that
have a problem that requires thorough analysis and tough

One of the primary advantages of the DITA model is to reduce the cost of
change in the future. Migrating legacy content "as is" simply maintains
the status quo. The content is still largely unworkable. Transforming
content to meet the model means that you will have a database that is
pliable. Given 20 years of desktop publishing, we have created a legacy
of content that is incredibly expensive to change, as Rob and Paul have
both noted in their examples. If you do nothing to reduce the cost of
change, why bother to spend all this time, money, and energy moving to

We might want to consider the concept of "technical debt." We have
gotten ourselves into a huge technical debt with the way we have
produced technical content for 20 years. Now seems the time to reduce
the debt. I think the difficulty of decreasing costs is one reason for
the stampede to outsource technical documentation to low-cost work

As you can tell, I'm quite passionate about this issue. 

JoAnn T. Hackos, PhD
Comtech Services, Inc.
710 Kipling Street, Suite 400
Denver, CO 80215

-----Original Message-----
From: Rob Frankland [mailto:torobf@earthlink.net] 
Sent: Friday, October 28, 2005 10:31 AM
To: JoAnn Hackos; 'Paul Prescod'; dita@lists.oasis-open.org
Subject: RE: [dita] Thoughts On Sections

This discussion really addresses a critical conundrum with DITA in
The line of thinking that stresses writing reusable concise topics is
admirable. For users just adopting DITA, one of their biggest concerns
how they migrate their existing content into DITA. If the integration of
legacy content requires huge rework, only the largest, most
groups will take that the plunge. 

I think this tips the argument in favor of the approach Paul has
It accommodates both points of views. It enables new content to be
expeditiously for single-sourcing and allows legacy content to be
with less effort.


Rob Frankland
12408 Kallgren RD NE
Bainbridge Island, WA 98110-3328
Phone: 206-780-8850
Email: torobf@earthlink.net

-----Original Message-----
From: JoAnn Hackos [mailto:joann.hackos@comtech-serv.com] 
Sent: Friday, October 28, 2005 5:48 AM
To: Paul Prescod; dita@lists.oasis-open.org
Subject: RE: [dita] Thoughts On Sections

Would it not be preferable to advise users to consider developing these
subconcept statements as individual topics that may then be more easily
reused in other contexts? In most cases, the nesting into two or more
levels of information is a formalism preferred by the writer rather than
a useful construct for the reader. In most instances, when I review
these structures, they are poorly structured. I know that we can't
enforce good writing practices, but it's interesting to think we might

If the authors were asked to write smaller conceptual topics, with
better structuring of information to make the information more flat (and
therefore perhaps more understandable), we could stay with the original
design. If the nesting is really that important to understanding in the
output context, the nesting could occur in the ditamap rather than in
the topic itself. The smaller conceptual topics would also be more
readily available for reuse in contexts where they should be standalone.

Just some thoughts

JoAnn T. Hackos, PhD
Comtech Services, Inc.
710 Kipling Street, Suite 400
Denver CO 80215

-----Original Message-----
From: Paul Prescod [mailto:paul.prescod@blastradius.com] 
Sent: Friday, October 28, 2005 6:41 AM
To: dita@lists.oasis-open.org
Subject: [dita] Thoughts On Sections

On last week's call we discussed several different approaches to
sections. My personal opinion on the current section element is that
they are simultaneously too strict and too loose. We've discussed at
length the sense in which they are too loose: they do not provide any
guidance for authoring and overlap almost exactly with the content model
of paragraph.

On the other hand, sections are more strict than HTML "DIV" elements in
a very important way: they cannot be nested. Some of our customers have
a need for "grouper sections" that can wrap up other sections in their
specializations. Basically their topics are not necessarily flat. For
privacy reasons I'll make up an example structure:

Part Description
		Subpart 1 description
		Subpart 2 description
		Subpart 3 description
	Use contexts
		Context 1 description
		Context 2 description
		Context 3 description

The customer sees the "Part Description" as the topic level because the
subparts are meaningless to the reader out of context of the parent.

Therefore I feel that in the loose, designed-to-be-specialized base DITA
topic type, sections should be nestable. Another key reason to allow
sections to nest is to have a body-level container that can serve the
"generic wrapper" role that phrases do at the inline level. Generic
wrappers are useful as a basis for specialization, as a place to put
filtering attributes and as a way to logically conref a set of content
elements at once.

I propose short-term and long-term directions for sections:

DITA 1.1: they should be loosened to be generic wrappers that can nest.

<!ENTITY % section.cnt "(#PCDATA | %basic.ph; | %basic.block; | %title;
|  %txt.incl; | section)*">

DITA 2.0: they should be tightened to be generic wrappers _of body
elements_ with zero or one titles and no PCDATA.

<!ELEMENT % section.cnt "(title? , %basic.block;)">

If we could agree on this direction then we wouldn't need a new
structured-section element. But if it is important that section have
basically the same content model as paragraph plus titles (I'm not sure
why) then we probably do need structured-section.

 Paul Prescod

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