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Conversion to DITA: Requirements Before Estimates

Yehudit Lindblom

Yehudit Lindblom

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Customers often reach out to request price estimates for migrating non-DITA files to DITA. We request information to help us provide estimates, and some customers aren’t ready or hesitate to supply information. Conversion to DITA is not a standard, across-the-board process. It’s dependent on the needs of a project.

Restaurant Scenario

Imagine you own a restaurant. A successful restaurant with many happy customers over many years.

Someone walks in – a new customer. Except, wait – they don’t want to sit down to a meal now. They’re looking to come back in three or four months. Great! You start to make a reservation for them. You ask a few questions.

“How many people will be in your party?”

“I have no idea yet. Maybe 10, maybe 50, maybe 100.”

“Okay, we’ll leave it open for now, and we’ll be in touch closer to the event.”

“How much will it cost?”

“Well, we have a full menu, from appetizers to desserts, with everything in between, including lower cost options, such as baked chicken, or premium items including steak, filet, etc. Would you like to set the menu now? We can go over the pricing.”

“No. We don’t yet know what we want to eat. Please just tell me how much it’s going to cost for us to come here.”

“I’d love to do that for you, but I don’t have enough information. It could be as little as $10.00 per person, if you order a drink and a small dessert item. Or, it could be as much as $65.00/person, if you order a drink, an appetizer, a premium menu item, and dessert. We give discounts for larger groups, so if you have more than 20 people, there will be a discount, and if you have more than 50 people, an additional discount.”

“But I want to know how much it’s going to cost.”

The bill before the meal or event, without knowing what the order will be?

That doesn’t sound very realistic, does it?

Yet, that is what it’s like when we’re asked to give a price estimate for a project that doesn’t have requirements in place. This is why we ask for samples for conversion projects, why we ask for your DITA and other input files, and why we try to understand how you’re using your PDF, web help, and other outputs.


You’re about to embark on migrating to DITA. Your team hasn’t yet been trained on how to author in DITA. You haven’t yet worked to understand how you’re going to set up your DITA – will you have specializations? Those pieces of content that look like a table without borders – in DITA, will that be a table? A definition list? Something else? You’re not quite sure yet.

You aren’t sure exactly which publications you’re planning to convert, so you aren’t ready to send your input publications. Do you know how many templates you have? Are your current technical writers/authors consistent with styles, so the publications to be migrated are the same styles across the board? Or do you have several different templates coming from different places, or inconsistent styling?

For the moment, you’re not comfortable sending samples of the eventual output to the conversion team, either, because you haven’t 100% decided that you want your output to continue to look the way it currently does. After all, now’s a great time to make some changes, and the marketing team has input, too.

Why are these important?

All of these issues mean that it’s impossible to predict how much time and effort are necessary to migrate your current content to DITA. We don’t know what the input is. What will the output DITA XML files look like? We don’t have information on what the output content will look like for PDF, HTML, etc., to guesstimate what the output DITA may include.

We want to give you the most accurate estimate possible, and we are happy to help you work through the process to ensure you get the most efficient conversion. If you’re in the exploration process for now, just “window shopping,” we can show you samples of what other clients have migrated and what the prices were, but it won’t be the same as an estimate for your project.

Sorting out the necessary details ahead of the price quote will allow us and you to have a better understanding of what it will take to make that happen.

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