How to Choose a DTD

So, you’re ready to develop your content management strategy, and you must choose a content model. How do you decide which one will work for you? You’ll need to determine whether an existing DTD will work for your content management strategy or if you will need a custom-built DTD that is specifically designed for your content needs. There are pros and cons to each option, and contrasting companies will have different needs in terms of content structure and rules.

Standard DTDs

A standard DTD, such as DITA (topic-based model) or DocBook (book-based model), gives you a ready content model out-of-the-box, saving you the time of creating a DTD from scratch. It provides an existing content model into which your content must fit. And, standard DTDs are typically supported by many publishing tools, or they may even provide their own tools, such as the DITA Open Toolkit. On the other hand, they will carry unused structures as overhead, and may not have structures for specific requirements. If your content doesn’t have any special requirements, you may be able to easily fit your content into an existing standard DTD. 

While DITA and DocBook are general standards, some industries have their own specific standards, such as S1000D used in the aerospace and defense industry, ATA used in the aviation industry, and SPL used for product labeling in the healthcare industry, among many others. To comply with your industry’s standard, check with organizations in your industry to see if a DTD is currently in use.

You may find that you just can’t seem to fit your content perfectly into a standard DTD. While standard DTDs are “one-size-fits-all,” they can be a good starting point from which you can use, say 90%, and adapt the other 10% or so to meet your company’s needs. It is fairly common for companies to customize a standard DTD to some degree to meet their specific requirements. With some minor tweaking, you can still use a majority of the standard DTD and save yourself the time and effort of developing your own content model.

Custom DTDs

A custom DTD can be developed specifically for your company’s content requirements. If your company’s content doesn’t follow the structure or rules of a standard DTD, you can get exactly what you need by building your own DTD. This allows you to customize specific content structures that are fluent in your existing documents. By deviating from the standards, you may incur some customization costs to make your tools work with your DTD.

5 Steps to Choosing a DTD

To determine which DTD would be best for your company, you’ll need to perform an information analysis. This content audit includes an examination of your existing documents and identifies the elements and structure used. The information analysis should reveal a detailed assessment of the goals, requirements, and constraints defining the boundaries of the overall project, therefore concluding which DTD you may need. Here are the five steps required for an information analysis:

  1. Define the problem. Why do you want to move to a new content management strategy? What are the issues with your content? What are the issues with processing and finding your content? You obviously have problems that you are trying to solve, so write them down. After all, you wouldn’t be changing the way you manage content if everything were working perfectly.
  2. Select a team. An important part of a successful analysis is having the right people available. Choose the key players in each area of your content process to help with your information analysis.
  3. Define your requirements. Create the vision for your content management strategy by capturing detailed, specific short- and long-term goals. Include any working restraints, including budget, schedule, infrastructure, or regulations.
  4. Identify the target information set. Gather a large number of representative samples of your content base that provide a comprehensive sample of all the scenarios that occur within your content. A few files will not suffice for a thorough content audit of your requirements.
  5. Analyze the information set. Categorize your information in various ways, including its structural components, content reuse, formatting containers, indexing information, process control information, sequencing and associations, occurrences of components, and metadata. As you analyze each piece, ask yourself questions, such as:
    • What is this thing? What do I call it?
    • Why do I need it? What requirement does it help me fulfill?
    • Does it have pieces? Are they important?
    • Does it relate to other pieces? Are those relationships important?
    • Have I identified enough components to satisfy all the requirements?

Once the information analysis is complete, you will have the formal information you need to evaluate and choose a DTD that will be the best fit for your content management strategy.