DITA Starter Kit: Everything You Need to Jump into DITA

ToolkitSo you’ve decided to adopt DITA, or at least start looking into adoption? Take a deep breath, and get ready to jump in—to both the hands-on of DITA content and the planning needed to make your implementation succeed. If you’re still a bit unfamiliar with DITA itself, make sure to read our post on what DITA is.

You already know the many good reasons to transition to DITA with careful planning. But in the meantime, there’s no reason you can’t start today by getting hands on immediately with very little cost. If you’re following the Phases of Adoption, then this DITA Starter Kit can be your jumping off point for the investigation phase.

Training and Help

Note: As of August, 2014, we have not found any free online training fully adequate for getting started.

    • Find the book or course that most suits the role you’re taking on. If you are a manager, you will need different information than if you’re an author.
  • Resources you can get help from include consultants and discussion groups.

Project Management

  • A DITA adoption plan
  • A basic content strategy that addresses the following questions:
    • What are your high-level business problems and how will DITA help you solve them?
    • Where are you starting from (tools, content, outputs, baseline metrics, and resources)?
    • What are your short- and long-term goals (both quantifiable and non-quantifiable)?
    • What version of DITA do you want to work with? 1.2, 1.3, with or without learning and training specialization, etc?
    • Which topics will you use and how will you use them?
    • Where and how will new content be stored and organized?
    • Who will access it? What tools need to access the content?
    • How will authors find existing content?
    • What published outputs will you need? PDF, HTML5, mobile, XLIFF for translation?
    • What tools will you need to reach your end goals? 

simple DITA mapTools

  • An XML editor that supports DITA, like oXygen, FrameMaker, or XMetaL (there are a number of others as well). All have 30-day free trials available; FrameMaker also has a 1-year monthly subscription available.
    • If using Adobe’s FrameMaker, switch to Structured in the interface and consider DITA-FMx plug-in.
  • A location to manage and store all your content:
    • If multiple authors are accessing content and you have no budget: A shared location to store files, like a shared file system or SharePoint.
    • If you have budget: A CCMS (component content management system)
  • A Publishing tool to create the outputs you plan to deliver to your users:
    • The DITA Open Toolkit is free and comes bundled with most XML editors and some CCMSs, but requires coding knowledge to customize. If using this method and you need PDF output, use Leigh White’s book to get started. This Yahoo! group is also a great resource.
    • Any other tools that you need for your desired outputs including but not limited to WebWorks, FrameMaker, FluidTopics, MindTouch, or oXygen’s built-in transforms.
  • Templates (download from the bottom of this article).

Note: The templates can be used by any XML editor but are set up to have unique IDs assigned if using in oXygen. If using another XML editor, simply modify the ID attribute value so that it creates a unique identifier when you create new documents from the templates.

Now You’re Ready to Get Hands-On

You’ve acquired some knowledge, and identified your tools. Once you’ve installed your XML editor (usually with a bundled DITA Open Toolkit included), then you’re ready to start getting hands on.

    1. Launch your XML editor.
    2. (Optional) Look up how to create new DITA topics from your own templates (if you plan to use our templates)
    3. Create new topics from your templates and save them to an easily accessible location.
    4. Create a map and save it to the same location as your topics.
    5. Edit your map to include the topics you’ve created.
    6. (Optional) Load into your CCMS.
    7. Publish using your XML editor’s default DITA Open Toolkit or your desired tools.

Next Steps: Focus on Planning and Strategy

As you can imagine, getting hands on with content is really just the first step. If you’re adopting DITA, planning and strategizing are critical and ongoing activities. As a starting point, consider your

  • Business case and ROI
  • Long-term goals
  • Change management plan for authors
  • Resources
  • Risks
  • Further training
  • Reuse strategy (including conrefs and keys)
  • Publishing strategies
  • Content review process
  • Translation process (if needed)
  • Metadata strategies, both for authors to use and for end-users to find and filter content
  • Conversion method for transferring existing content into XML

You may also want to consider creating content model that defines what topics, elements, and attributes will be used, how, and where. For example, will you use short descriptions in every topic and will they be limited to a single sentence? This content model document can be the beginning of your new Author’s Guide (like a style guide but for DITA writers) once it is complete.


If you’re exploring the possibilities of DITA, or already on your way to managing your content in DITA, start with basics: training and information resources, the right set of authoring, publishing, and management tools, and a project management approach that includes strategies for change management, reuse, metadata and conversion.

DITA Starter Kit templates: download this zip file which contains concept, task and reference topic templates, as well as a DITA map template to help you get started.

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