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Subject: Re: DocBook topic element

Hi Rob,
Thanks for your thoughts. The idea here is to extend DocBook into the "bottom-up" approach by supporting standalone units of information that can be assembled into larger units of publication.  What you have not yet seen is the proposal for the assembly process, because the DocBook TC is still hashing that out.  That proposal is forthcoming, and then the discussion can be a bit more complete.  The combination of assembly and topic will allow those who are currently using section elements as modules to instead use an element designed as a standalone topic.
You ask "why not just use DITA?".  I think there are going to be lots of answers and discussions about that. Just because someone wants to set their content up in a modular fashion does not mean they have to use DITA, if there is a good alternative.  This proposal is for those who want to do modular content but don't need the special features of DITA, or who prefer to use DocBook markup and stylesheets.
Bob Stayton
Sagehill Enterprises
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, July 29, 2009 8:19 AM
Subject: RE: DocBook topic element

There's something about introducing <topic> into DocBook that doesn't quite seem right to me.
I think that the DITA model is a "bottom-up" approach, using <topic> as the building block for publications. However, the DocBook model (so far) has been a "top-down" approach, with documents typically being authored as entire publications that contain chapters and sections.
Introducing a <topic> into DocBook muddies the waters. Either:
(1) You use <topic>s instead of <book>s, in which case why not just use DITA?; or,
(2) You insert <topic>s into <book>s, in which case the <topic> wouldn't really seem to be a standalone unit of information as intended.
That's my two cents', anyway.
Rob Cavicchio

Principal Technical Writer
EMC Captiva
EMC Corporation
10145 Pacific Heights Boulevard, 6th Floor
San Diego, CA 92121-4234

P: (858) 320-1208
F: (858) 320-1010
E: Cavicchio_Rob@emc.com

The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by EMC and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of EMC.

From: Bergfrid Skaara [mailto:bergfrid.digitaldias@gmail.com]
Sent: Monday, July 27, 2009 5:44 AM
To: Bob Stayton
Cc: DocBook Apps; docbook@lists.oasis-open.org
Subject: Re: [docbook-apps] DocBook topic element

This would be most welcome!
We currently do modular authoring with customized section templates but without schema validation. Topics might save us from the consistency maintenance nightmare :)
About the design: you say in #2 that a topic can be for example a task, does this mean that db.task will be a child of topic? If so, consider that both topic, task, and procedure elements have a title. Today, with task as child of section, you get the title three times (by default) - and if you do not wrap tasks in sections , the tasks are not numbered and you easily get validation errors when assembling your modular document.
If you implement this, please consider adding the DITA-like "Related information" block at the end of topics.
Best regards, Bergfrid Skaara

On Sat, Jul 25, 2009 at 6:59 PM, Bob Stayton <bobs@sagehill.net> wrote:
The DocBook Technical Committee is considering adding features to DocBook to better support modular authoring and assembly of documents.  The Committee is developing an assembly structure that lets you point to DocBook files and elements, similar in function (but not form) to DITA maps.  A process would be run on an assembly to pull the various elements together for further processing as a document.

While it would be possible to assemble a document from existing DocBook elements, I submitted an additional proposal to add a new <topic> element. Such a topic element would be a natural candidate for assembly of modular units into larger documents.

A new topic element is needed because no other DocBook
element meets the needs for authoring standalone units of
information.  A section element is not appropriate, because
it implies a "section of something" with a larger context.
The article element comes closest, but it allows appendix,
acknowledgements, and colophon children, which are not
appropriate for a topic.  Also, article currently cannot
be a child of chapter or appendix.

The design goals of this proposal are:

a. To provide a designated element for authoring
modular content, each instance of which "stands alone", but
which also has relationships to other modules.

b. Design the topic element to be very general, so
that it can be adapted for many types of topics.

c. Make the addition of topic backwards compatible
with DocBook 5.0.

d. Clearly distinguish topics and sections.

Here are is the proposed design for topic:

1. The content model for topic is identical to that of section.

2. A topic type is indicated by a CDATA "type" attribute value.
For example, "task", "reference", "concept", etc.

3. A topic cannot include topic children.  Allowing a topic
to contain other topic elements breaks the semantic of
"standalone unit of information".

4. A topic can contain section children to subdivide its content
for clarity and ease of reference.

5.  A section element cannot contain a topic element.
Placing a topic inside a section implies the topic
depends on the section parent for its context.
It also hopelessly muddles the distinction between
topic and section.

6.  Allow topic as a child of book or part. This allows you
to author groups of topics in a convenient container.
Such topics could be siblings of chapters and other
component elements, the way article can be such a sibling.

7. Allow topic as a child of chapter or appendix, but not
as a sibling of section.  This also allows you to author
groups of topics in a convenient container, this time
grouped into a chapter or appendix.  There is an additional
constraint, though.  A chapter can contain either section
children or topic children, but not both.  This is to
maintain a clear distinction between topics and sections.

The Committee would like to allow some experimentation and comment before adopting the new element.  I include here a customization of DocBook 5.0 RelaxNG (compact syntax) to add a topic element as described above.  The Committee looks forward to users trying it out and commenting on their experiences and ideas.

------------------ topic customization -------------------------------
default namespace = "http://docbook.org/ns/docbook"
namespace db = "http://docbook.org/ns/docbook"
namespace xlink = "http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink"
namespace s = "http://www.ascc.net/xml/schematron"
namespace a = "http://relaxng.org/ns/compatibility/annotations/1.0"

include "docbook.rnc" inherit = db {

db.toplevel.sections =
 ((db.section+, db.simplesect*) | db.simplesect+)
 | (db.sect1+, db.simplesect*)
 | db.refentry+
 | dbx.topic+

dbx.topic =
  element topic {

dbx.topic.type.attribute =
 attribute type { text }

dbx.topic.attlist = db.section.attlist  & dbx.topic.type.attribute?
dbx.topic.info = db._info.title.req


Bob Stayton
Sagehill Enterprises

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