Strange Case of Dr. SME and Mr. Author: What happens when you introduce DITA to non-tech writers

The Product Support Engineering (PSE) department at Varian has a different structure from the regular documentation department. We are service oriented and have SMEs writing all the documents. This brings on an entirely new set of issues. We do not know what document type will be needed, which SME will need to write it, and when the end user needs it. We have 70 authors, who are not tech writers, we have approximately 60 document types, and we have tight deadlines – usually yesterday. This means we need to implement DITA with as much structure and as little training and transition time as possible.

Join us as we look at how we have solved some of our DITA implementation problems, including extra efforts for SMEs. We have used templates, dual publication, various training methods, and persistence. We will review what has worked, what has not, and all the levels between.

What can the audience expect to learn?

We noticed more service and other department attendees at the last meeting and believe that this presentation will speak to them, as well as provide possible solutions for DITA implementation. It is difficult and requires much effort and planning to move to DITA, for departments other than typical technical publication teams this is even worse because so much material and advice is designed for typical technical publishing departments. Although both can write, there are major differences between trained tech writers and SMEs. Our implementation has some unique features that may assist others to broaden their solutions.

Meet the presenters

Catherine Long has been with Varian for 6 years. She was brought in to assist the service documentation department with authoring standards and the publishing process, as well as to lead the move to DITA XML. Her challenge is to design a system architecture and provide training for 70 SMEs who write documents as only part of their busy schedules. Her relaxation is to immerse herself in the worlds of Shakespeare, Wodehouse, Wilde, and others.


Rich Perry manages a publication team responsible for processing technical servicing content for a medical device manufacturer. Over the course of his career work life he held various technical positions supporting military and medical devices. These experiences as an end-user of servicing procedures lit a fire in him that lead to his avocation as a technical trainer, curriculum developer, and product support specialist.

Rich’s team is in the process of transitioning from an unstructured Word authoring environment to DITA. While he and his team have not fully implemented DITA, Rich is ready to share his experiences as the struggle continues!

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