Think topic-based writing is the next big thing? You could be right. Even if you are not converting to DITA, you can take advantage of the benefits of writing in topics instead of chapters. And if you are starting to write with DITA, do it right, from the start.
What’s the big deal with topics? They do a few major things:
And if you’re using DITA, you can use attributes to take single sourcing to the maximum, sharing topics between output types, products, and even departments. Want to hide those graphics for the online help but keep them for the PDF? Easy. Want to hide that first step that only beginner users need? No problem. Want marketing to use just the paragraphs and lists they need? Really simple. All it takes is a little preparation, a little testing, and then a quick option on publish. It’s not hard. It’s not even complicated.
Single sourcing. High usability. Clean, organized content. Your users will love you. Your manager will be amazed that you saved both money and time, and all while meeting or exceeding user expectations.
Is there a downside to writing topics? Well, yes, frankly, there is.
Instead of a dozen files per deliverable, you’ll have ten dozen files (even with wild amounts of single sourcing). If you’re using a regular file folder way of organizing your topics, then it’s going to become cumbersome and you’re going to cut down on your ability to re-use topics between different writers and groups. Plan for a way to organize topics that will let you maximize sharing. Many companies decide to start using a CMS, another cost on the highway to progress.
And don’t forget that writing topics is a change, a big change, in the way you research, plan, and write your topics. And change can be hard to implement.
But if you think the benefits outweigh the difficulties, like we do, then maybe it’s time to get started.