Most of us find out early in life that square pegs don’t fit into round holes. As we get older, we learn that this lesson applies to many situations besides playing with blocks. The latest example I can think of is what happens when writers try to fit different types of information into the DITA topic typing scheme.
While DITA is an excellent single-source publishing technology, its topic triad of concept, task and reference is often perceived, incorrectly, as an information design methodology. Attempts to apply it as such can cause confusion for content developers and managers.
In his article “Everything Else Is Not a Concept,”
Mark Baker of Every Page Is Page One
illustrates the problem with the DITA topic triad by comparing it to dividing the animal kingdom into three categories: cats, dogs, and everything else. I take Mark’s point to be that such a scheme leaves us with an “everything else” category that’s just too diverse. His analogy is amusing, thought-provoking and right on target.
Information Mapping’s Theory of Information Types
The Information Mapping® method’s Theory of Information Types recognizes six distinct information types. They are:
• Process—What Happens, Who Does What
• Procedure—“How Tos,” Step-by-Step Work Instructions
• Principle—Policies, Rules, Guidelines
• Concept—Ideas, Definitions, Abstractions
• Structure—Parts, Functions, Components
• Fact—Statements, Specifications
These six information types have been validated by over forty years of practical application to literally millions of pages and screens. They apply to the vast majority of business-related content, so authors won’t find themselves trying to squeeze square pegs into round holes.
An author who substitutes the DITA topic triad for a theory of information design is in a tricky situation. Simplicity is a good thing, but when you’re developing and managing content, oversimplifying can lead to surprisingly complex problems.
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