More Interesting Preliminary Results from DITAToo’s Legacy-Content-to-DITA Survey

DITAToo Chart on Percentage of Legacy Content Re-written to DITA (Redone for Better Clarity)

The folks at DITAToo have released another teaser on the results they are getting for a survey they are running that asks how people are converting legacy content to DITA. This shows the answers to two questions:

  • what is the percentage of organizations that are re-writing or re-structuring their content in order to make it fit the DITA model, and
  • whether the organization is doing the conversion themselves or not.

Both preliminary results are interesting, though neither are a huge surprise based on my own experience.

How Much Re-Writing/Re-Structuring of Legacy Content is Required?
The answer to the first question is that the majority of organizations are finding they have considerable work to do when converting their legacy content over to DITA XML (63.5%). I don’t find this very surprising having worked on conversion projects, and finding that most unstructured content needs at least some level of re-writing before it can go into the DITA format. Arguably this is not a bad thing at all, as it makes writers think more about what they are writing and are hopefully also being more succinct by applying minimalist writing techniques. I would bet (or at least hope) that most legacy docs converted this way end up being smaller in terms of page count than the originals.

DITAToo Chart on Percentage of Legacy Content Re-written to DITA (Redone for Better Clarity)
DITAToo Chart on Percentage of Legacy Content Re-written to DITA (Redone for Better Clarity)

The heartening statistic out of this for me is the fact that almost a third of their respondents (32.7%) are finding that their existing legacy content mostly matches what the DITA specification requires, easing the burden of the conversion process. In both of these cases I would love to know which topics types are the ones that need the most work in order to be converted over from legacy to DITA, and I would bet that the highly-structured task topic would be the type that needs the most work – this again matches my own experience in this area.

The remaining two answers—which break down as “our legacy content perfectly matches DITA requirements” and the other extreme of “it’s easier to re-write everything from scratch”–from the numbers end up being about 2% each. I am actually surprised the value of “it’s easier to write everything from scratch” is not higher than it is, which probably speaks more to the professionalism of technical writers in general for anticipating and acting on industry best practices. I also find it odd that if no conversion is necessary, then how was it not already DITA? 😉 I am hoping that when DITAToo releases their final results that any comments from respondents on these questions will also be included.

Who is Leading the Conversion Effort?
The other question DITAToo provides preliminary results on is who is leading the efforts for the conversion process. Given the relative lack of resources most technical writing teams have at their disposal, I don’t find the result that the majority (58%) of groups responding are doing the conversion work all by themselves. What I do find interesting though is that consultancies are clearly playing a not significant role in helping with the conversion efforts. Taken together, the mix of the rest of the answers where consultants some sort of role in the conversion process, running the gamut from playing a minor part to doing all of the work, runs to 42%. I’ve re-cast their original chart to show this below:

Levels of DITA Conversion by Consultants vs. D.I.Y.
Levels of DITA Conversion by Consultants vs. D.I.Y.

Interesting results, but DITAToo emphasizes that these figures are still preliminary, as the survey is still running. There is a hint that the number of survey respondents is small, possibly as low as 28 or 29, which may not be enough to be representative of the whole. Which is all the more reason why people who are converting legacy content over to DITA ought to add their answers to the survey.

Here’s the previous piece I did on their preliminary results.

Minor milestone: this is the 100th post on the site!


"DITAWriter" is Keith Schengili-Roberts. I work for IXIASOFT as a DITA Specialist/Information Architect. And I like to write about DITA and the technical writing community. To get ahold of me you can email me at:

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