What is a topic? What does standalone mean?

Everyone agrees that we should be writing in topics. (Okay, not everyone, probably, but everyone who is likely to read this blog.) Everyone agrees we should write in topics. But no one agrees on what a topic is.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. When asked to describe what a topic is, almost everyone in the business will come up with the same essential adjective: standalone. Everyone agree that a topic is a standalone piece of content. Unfortunately, no one agrees on what “standalone” means. read more

Fine chunking and translation apparently don’t mix either

The one concession I have been willing to make to the fine chunking characteristic of many DITA implementations is that it was a boon to translation. Apparently not so, according to a recent blog post on Content Rules.

The problem is that fine chunking tends to obscure context, making the content impossible to translate reliably. And the real kicker in this problem is that even if the translator is given the means to see the content in the current context or contexts, the source may be reused in new contexts later without the translator being involved again or ever seeing the content in its new context. (This is where the savings are realized, after all.) read more

Deconstructing Pizza

My daughter use to eat pizza one ingredient at a time. She would patiently sit and take her slice apart, making separate piles of pepperoni, green peppers, olives, cheese, and crust. She would then eat each ingredient in turn.  I am reminded of the bizarre (and short-lived) practice when I see how many people do topic type design (or at least, how they talk about it).

Designing topic types, I read in many articles and presentations, is about dividing information up into different types. The number of types proposed varies, but the principle always seems to be the same: there are distinct types of information, and the goal of topic design is to pick them out of your content and make separate neat piles of them. read more