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Meeting recap: Quark simplifies XML and DITA 03/30/2010

Posted by jeffstaples in Chapter Meetings.
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by Cathy Bettoney

Two representatives from Quark, Mark Lewis and Jason Keever, presented the Quark Dynamic Publishing Solution (DPS) to STC Houston in March. Although we are all technical writers, not all of us are familiar with single-source tools.
 
The Quark DPS has three components:

  • Quark XML Author — a plug-in for Microsoft Word
  • Quark DITA Studio — a software application that allows customization by documentation departments
  • Quark DITA-XML Adapter for SharePoint — the content management system that puts it all together

XML, or extensible markup language, assigns tags to text. To me, it looked a lot like HTML code. DITA, Darwin Information Typing Architecture, organizes text by topic and structures documents according to what kind of text goes where. The SharePoint Adapter then keeps track of revisions so that any revision will ripple automatically through the entire documentation for a product.

The presenters gave actual examples of documentation being reformatted for several different types of publications, such as a user manual, a web page, and online help. The content was the same, but the delivery of information was adapted to the end user. The Quark software seemed to format for different applications in a way similar to what a cascading style sheet does for a web page. The writer edits the text in Word and Quark takes it from there.

The advantage of Quark’s software is, of course, reducing the learning curve needed for writing with XML tags, much the same way as web design software, such as Front Page or Dreamweaver, offers a WYSIWYG user interface to minimize the need for writing HTML code.

The savings in time is obvious for a large documentation department in a company with frequent product releases and a high percentage of content reuse. Instead of manually reformatting a product change for several different publications (web, user manual, online help, sales brochure, quick start guide), there is just one change in the relevant topic.

Jason and Mark were careful to point out that this is an enterprise application and that if a company purchased their product, they would also receive an analysis of their documentation and customization for their particular needs. This is probably not a product that a lone writer would find useful, but the explanation of XML and DITA was clear and valuable.

Cathy is a second-career technical writer, having been employed at Millar Instruments, Inc. for eight years as their lone writer. Her duties include managing the government grants.

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