Regarding the challenge of helping people
understand the distinction between "DITA" and "DITA OT",
here are some thoughts stemming from training new (to
structured authoring) authors, parts of which some people
find a little alarming, but all of which I cling to nerdily
and stubbornly nevertheless. It starts with separation of
structure and formatting. I use this premise to motivate a
pair of diagrams, simple enough that I think you can get
them from these verbal descriptions:
1. For "traditional/DTP", there are two
blobs in the diagram, one of which says "Authoring tool" and
has an arrow pointing to the other, which says "Output".
2. For "structured authoring" the
"Authoring tool" blob yields a "Structured document", which
sits next to another (originless) blob called "Style
sheets". Both of these blobs feed into another one called
"Publishing system", which in turn points to the final blob
The mantra I use with these two diagrams
is "With structured authoring you are not creating output;
you are creating input." E.g., you are not saying "This
stuff should have a box around it and be positioned over
that-a-way"; you are only saying "This stuff is a sidebar".
Then the publishing system says "Oh yeah, I know what to do
From there it is an easy step to
discussing the following very real process, strongly similar
to the code-test-debug cycle in programming:
1. Write some code (XML/content).
2. Generate output.
3. Examine the output for correctness.
4. Fix errors and go to step 2.
I talk of the giddy anticipation when
you're about to generate output again, the disappointment
when it's still broken, and of course that eventual rush
when you finally do get it right.
The "fix errors" part is a burden
potentially shared by both authors and style sheet
developers, which does complicate matters. As far as the
analogy goes, this can be handwaved a bit by the fact that
we are teaching authors about their particular perspective
on this ecosystem. But this also gives an opportunity to
discuss the negotiations/compromises that sometimes must be
made between markup design, markup usage, and style sheet
development effort. (Similar negotiations may occur between
product management and development in a programming shop,
I think you could possibly push this
analogy further with comparisons between DITA and
programming languages, but I have not needed them, or
thought them out enough to be sure how well it would work.
While I admit that this analogy may be a
little scary to folks who think programming is intimidating,
I also think that it helps strengthen the basic premise of
separation of structure from formatting that really is
fundamental to understanding why DITA <> DITA OT. The
cyclical process with "write code" and "generate output" in
different stages reinforces that they are different parts of