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Structured Authoring without XML: Evaluating Lightweight DITA for Technical Documentation

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Purpose: We present a proposal for HDITA, an HTML5-based version of the Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA). We report on an exploratory study about the feasibility of using HDITA as an authoring platform for technical content. We asked how novice technical writers describe and evaluate the complexity and difficulty of the different stages of the HDITA authoring process and if novice technical writers can author effective topic-based technical content in HTML5 (HDITA) without full knowledge of XML (DITA).

Method: To evaluate the feasibility of authoring and publishing with HDITA, we modified the Instructions assignment of an introductory college course called Technical Writing. Students wrote blog posts during the authoring process and completed a survey on the perceived difficulty of HDITA. We evaluated the quality of HDITA Web deliverables with college students from diverse technical and academic backgrounds.

Results: Most author students were somewhat confident authoring technical content with HDITA, and most said they were very likely to somewhat likely to use HDITA in the future for technical writing projects. Students reported that the most difficult part of using HDITA involved Web templates and not HDITA itself. Twenty-seven students evaluated HDITA deliverables and gave them positive scores using a rubric for assessing quality technical information.

Conclusion: Acknowledging the small number of student authors involved in this feasibility study, we can still conclude that novice technical writers did not perceive creating technical documentation with HDITA as difficult or highly complex. Most student evaluators were able to complete the assigned tasks following the instructions created in HDITA.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2016

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  • Technical Communication, the Society's journal, publishes articles about the practical application of technical communication theory and serves as a common arena for discussion by practitioners. Technical Communication includes both quantitative and qualitative research while showcasing the work of some of the field's most noteworthy writers. Among its most popular features are the helpful book reviews. Technical Communication is published quarterly and is free with membership.
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