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DITA Topic Types

Users of technical information often need at least three types of content: procedures, background or conceptual information, and quick reference information. What most users don't need is a jumbled mix of those three types of information—for example, procedures buried in a long section of conceptual information or a table of miscellaneous commands thrown in the middle of a procedure.

Figure 1.2 shows how mixing information types can make specific pieces of information difficult to find. The topic uses a title that seems to indicate that the information is conceptual, and the topic does describe how nuclear energy is created. However, the topic then digresses into a task that describes how to connect an espresso machine to a nuclear reactor. And to make matters worse, the topic also contains a table of commands, none of which are related to how energy is created from nuclear fusion. Most users do not expect to find task information or even a list of commands in a topic called "Nuclear fusion as a power source."

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2 A topic with conceptual, task, and reference information.

To make it easier to create and deliver information that effectively separates content by type and purpose, DITA provides three main topic types: concept, task, and reference:

  • A task topic describes one procedure.
  • A concept topic defines what something is or how a process works.
  • A reference topic contains one type of reference information that users might need as they perform tasks.

Table 1.1 shows the differences between concept, task, and reference topic types by their titles.

Table 1.1. Examples of Topic Types by Title

Concept Topic Title

Task Topic Title

Reference Topic Title

User roles

Create user roles

Supported types of roles

High-definition television

Install a high-definition television set

Television set accessories


Make espresso drinks

Espresso drink ingredients

Cat behavior

Herd cats

Domestic cat varieties


Configure databases for enterprise systems

Database types


Take photographs of landscapes

Digital camera models and compatibility matrix

By separating content by type, you prevent users from wading through information that they don't need. For example, when you want to install a home entertainment system for the first time, you don't need to know about all the buttons on the remote control (reference information). Rather, you need the installation instructions. By separating the reference information from the task information, users can more quickly install their system.

Separating content by type also helps specific users find the information they need. For example, novice users are more likely to need conceptual information, whereas experts probably go straight to the procedures and reference material and might not bother with the concepts.

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