DITA lets the authors drive

This morning, April 1, brings welcome news from the OASIS DITA Technical Committee. Recognizing at long last that DITA authors want and deserve the opportunity to screw up the formatting in their documents, the committee has provided new ways to do just that.

dita-bird-drop“Microsoft Word, the most popular text editing software in the world, lets authors make a royal mess out of their formatting,” explained Technical Committee spokesman Mark Upton. “The users of DITA deserve no less.”

Through XSL transforms, the DITA Open Toolkit has always provided ways to make hash out of document formats. But typically those features fall within the purview of the information architect. Most rank-and-file authors can’t, or won’t, master the necessary XSLT coding skills.

With today’s newly announced features, authors can now create formatting nightmares directly within their DITA topics.

Here’s how it works.

The author inserts a <MoveOverLetMeDrive> element anywhere in the topic. Between <MoveOverLetMeDrive> and its end tag, the following new attributes are allowed on all elements:

  • indent=”nnnn” (where nnnn is any positive or negative number) changes indentation by the value specified. Units are not specified, so that — just as in Word — the effects are virtually impossible to predict. Depending on factors like lunar phases, indentation can change by picas, centimeters, inches, or parsecs.
  • font=”name” and fontsize=”nn” adjust text to the font and size indicated. For both, the default value is random — again designed to emulate one of the most heavily used features in Word.

Additionally, within any <MoveOverLetMeDrive> element, <li> (list item) elements are allowed outside lists — just as in Word.

Tables, however, will work the way they always have. “Tables already offer a zillion ways to mess up formats,” explained Upton. “We quickly realized there was nothing we could do to enhance them.”

At a press conference held to announce the changes, Upton was asked whether the whole idea might be foolish. “It’s April,” he replied. “The time of year for trying new things. Let’s just see what happens.”

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