The Latest Trends in DITA XML Use in Tech Writing (Part 2)

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DITA Trends Upward in Industry Survey
In the previous article I looked briefly at the numbers from the latest Microsft’s Visio survey of technical writer tools, taking the raw data and showing where the DITA-OT appears in the list of the overall top 20 Technical Writer’s tools (#18, up from #20 in 2011) and where it appears in a listing of the top 20 highest-ranked tools (#11, up from #16 in 2011). In this article I’ll look at what may be some emerging trends that appears across these surveys.

While there’s only two-year’s worth of data here, there’s a lot that makes me think that the trends that appear here are real. One is that the overall numbers between the two surveys are roughly the same (5,524 tallies for the 2011 most-used tools survey, and 5,221 for the 2012 version). The other thing that convinces me that there’s something here is that the top five or six applications in both lists are the same, which suggests that where there is change, we are seeing a real trend.

Let’s look at a comparison between the most-used Technical Writing tools:

Writers UA Survey 2011-2012 Most-Used Technical Writer Tools Comparison
Writers UA Survey 2011-2012 Most-Used Technical Writer Tools Comparison

Near the top TechSmith’s SnagIt trades places with Microsft’s Visio. Similarly Adobe PhotoShop switches places with Adobe PhotoShop. In both cases the changes are likely not significant. It is also worth noting that Adobe now has a lock on seven of the top-ten applications in the list, which means they are certainly doing something right.

Near the bottom of the list you will find the jump of the DITA-OT from #20 to #18 over the course of a year, which is the single largest gain out of the top 20. What’s also interesting is to see what is on its way down in the rankings over the course of a year. The Content Management System software manufacturer Author-It drops rank from #15 to #22. Since Author-It can be used to author in a DITA environment, on the surface this may not seem to bode well for DITA, though I suspect what we are seeing here is increased competition in the CMS marketspace having an impact. This may be confirmed in a similar but smaller drop by CMS software maker Adobe Captivate, which does not appear in the top 20 but does drop from #37 to #39 in the ranking. At the lower end of the scale the rankings are likely to be more fluid, and the survey omits many other CMSes that might have an influence — we’ll have to wait until 2013 to see whether or not this is a real trend.

Here’s a comparison of the highest-rated tools between the two years:

Writers UA Survey 2011-2012 Highest-Rated Writer Tools Comparison
Writers UA Survey 2011-2012 Highest-Rated Writer Tools Comparison

What’s interesting is that there are only three applications that have risen up the ranks: Adobe Captivate, the DITA-OT and JustSystem’s XMetaL. The DITA-OT jumps the highest from #16 to #11, which is significant. And while it falls below the threshold of this top 20 list, Atlassian’s Confluence ranks at #21, seemingly in lock-step with the #20-ranked XMetaL XML editor. (Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Illustrator also make this list, but there is no comparative ranking since neither appeared in the original 2011 list). It is also interesting to note the drop of the other products in the list, suggesting losses in market share by those firms.

It seems like DITA is definitely having more of an impact, with a significant trend upward. There are some interesting DITA-related comments that appear from respondents as well:

“DITA OT is important/used by WebWorks ePublisher, so that’s why I checked it. I do not use it directly.”

This suggests that to some writers the DITA-OT may be “hidden” from view; this writer checked it, but it seems likely that others did not. If so, the DITA-OT may rank higher than these lists would suggest.

The other two quotes have some interesting things to say about DITA and CMSes:

“We used DITA Open Toolkit to publish WebHelp and PDFs from Flare DITA XML. However, we are testing publishing the FM files with RoboHelp and Flare. DITA OT is not easy to use for the typical tech writer (have to use scripts to customize, etc.). We can’t maintain the published output without a developer. So hopefully RoboHelp or Flare will work (so far they do). We are looking into purchasing SDL Trisoft CMS to manage the files, which will help save money on translations.”

“You should definitely add DITA CMS by Ixiasoft to your list. That’s our CMS and we couldn’t live without it.”

These comments confirm my suspicions that the CMS market is in flux, with at least two DITA-based CMS systems omitted as options from each list. (The comment about the DITA-OT being hard to use is something I plan to address in a future article).

It’s hard to deny that there is a definite trend that is seeing DITA—slowly—coming into its own. I think it still has a long way to go before it is considered mainstream (I’ll be surprised if it cracks the Top 10 in the Most-Used listing for the next couple of years at least) but it is having a definite impact on the sets of tools that technical writers use in their work.


"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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3 thoughts on “The Latest Trends in DITA XML Use in Tech Writing (Part 2)

  1. It seems peculiar to list the DITA OT as an authoring tool. It’s not. Generally, writers never see it because it’s incorporated into the authoring or the CMS systems. It’s also confusing to list CMSs in the same list as authoring tools. If you wanted to include DITA authoring tools, you would have Arbortext Editor, XMetal, Oxygen, and various new editors in the “easy” list like Xopus, Quark, and so on. I think the survey is flawed if it mixes technologies so thoroughly.

  2. I agree with you that the Writers UA survey leaves a lot to be desired in terms of how it is put together and how the questions are posed to the writers.

    You are right that DITA-OT is not an authoring tool, and in some CMSes it may underpin the processes for producing output but is otherwise hidden from the technical writer. There’s one comment from a writer that supports that view and it leads me to think that the DITA-OT is under-represented.

    Despite all of that, I think that the results and trends we are seeing here are likely valid for the technical writing community at large. The similarly in the overall number of responses each year means that you can legitimately plot trends based on those numbers. Given that the trend for DITA-related tools is rising, I suspect that what we are seeing is real, even if the survey itself has its flaws.

    It’ll be interesting to see if the trends continue in the 2013 survey. (And I hope they add the other XML editors into the survey as you suggest).

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