Book review: The Compass

April 5, 2010

Sarah O’Keefe and her team at Scriptorium have pulled together a collection of their free white papers into a book titled The Compass: Essential Reading about XML, DITA, and Web 2.0.

I picked up a copy at the 2010 WritersUA Conference (thanks Sarah!), and even though the subject matter didn’t interest me greatly (I’m not on the DITA bandwagon), I read this book from cover to cover in two short sessions. And I learned a lot.

So many of those on the DITA bandwagon are true evangelists, but not Sarah and her colleagues. They live and breathe structured authoring, DITA, XML and other technologies, but they are very realistic about the benefits and downsides of these technologies for both companies and implementation teams — and the technical writers whose work will be affected on a daily basis.

The first three chapters (Structured authoring and XML, Managing implementation of structured authoring, and Assessing DITA as a foundation for XML implementation) are a great overview of the technologies available. Each chapter is easy to read and explains how these technologies can help organizations and technical writing teams. And how they are not for everyone or every organization.

The next four chapters contain specific (and helpful) information on how to install and use the various technologies. They document the ‘gotchas’ and the hacks you have to do to get them to work — hacks that aren’t necessarily part of the source documentation. For anyone implementing DITA Open Toolkit, these hacks alone are worth the price of the book! Then there are instructions for configuring fonts in FOP and DITA OT, and removing white space in structured FrameMaker documents.

The final chapter deals a little with Web 2.0 in technical documentation, and has a really useful list of ways you can evaluate credibility in public forums and user-generated content.

[Links last checked March 2010]

One comment

  1. […] Rhonda Bracey briefly surveys The Compass […]

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