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The body element

To what can we compare the body element in DITA? It’s not fluff, as in “hair with body.” There’s no inertia as in Newton’s First Law of Motion, “a body in motion tends to stay in motion.”  There’s no official entity as in a corporate body. But it is a collection of information, as in “a body of evidence.” And that thought image leads to some interesting explorations.

This definition of body as a collection of information does not say what kind of information is in the collection. An encyclopedia is a collection of knowledge, each topic of knowledge encapsulated in the body of an article. A newspaper is a collection of engaging ephemera, a novel is a collection of story arcs, and so forth.

As a number of DITA proponents have been saying, DITA is not just about technical documentation. A standard DITA topic, divested of the topic-oriented writing paradigm, is basically just a container for information–any kind of information. DITA processing brings with it the ability to publish that information in many forms, in either static or dynamic manner, in any “skin” or presentation. And thereby come the images:

  • DITA: the Winamp of topic playlists!
  • DITA: the future of eBooks!
  • DITA: it’s like well-mannered HTML for the rest of us!
  • DITA: the Horn and Hardart of consumable information!

These tropes all work for me because the thing that makes all these collections possible is the container element that bundles the information in the first place: body!

Did you know?

All major XML document-oriented languages have a body element or something closely named that serves the same purpose of keeping the information payload separate from its metadata. In the world of structured markup, the term appears at all scales of information, from the body of a note or paragraph up to the body of a book, and on up to libraries and repositories where we often see the Latin term corpus instead, characteristically a place where (figuratively speaking) all those document bodies are piling up.

Deep Dive

  • DITA 1.2 Spec: body
  • This link may be impermanent, but it currently lists an interesting word frequency cloud that includes uses of the term “body” in document structures. Sheldon likes it. Practical SGML

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