DITA Experience Rules, FrameMaker Usage Declines Further, DocBook is Dead

A 3 minute read written by keith September 17, 2013

Darwin at computer

Job postings seeking DITA experience continue to grow while FrameMaker usage continues to decline. DocBook as a viable technical writing standard in the job market is dead. While it is clear that the majority of firms out there are still asking their writers to create their content in an unstructured manner, there is a clear and steady increase in the number of companies seeking writers with structured content experience, with DITA leading the charge.

It All Began with a Simple Question…

Just over a year ago a colleague of mine asked me if I happened to know what percentage of technical writing jobs were asking for DITA experience. I told her that I didn’t know, but would begin to explore the subject. I started tracking job postings in the States on a popular job aggregator web site and after six months discovered that about 4% of all technical writing positions were looking for DITA experience.

That was six months ago so where are we now?

Roughly 4.5% of all technical writing positions are now seeking DITA experience. This is slow but steady growth, up from 4% six months ago, and 2.5% this time last year.

At first glance this may not seem like a high percentage, but one should never look at statistics in isolation. Here’s where requests for DITA experience compares to other common technical writing programs:

Technical Writer Job Requirements graph


As you can see, the standard MS Office tools are still in high demand, and Adobe’s FrameMaker continues to be a major player. DITA experience is still small when compared to these other programs, but as the trend lines show, request for DITA knowledge continues to grow while the rest either holds steady or drops.

Six months ago request for DITA experience for job ads on Indeed.com was at 4%, and now it is at 4.5%.  Compare that to FrameMaker, which has dropped a full percent over that same time period from 10% to 9%, and MS Word from 35% to 31%. Given that these two programs have been the staple of technical writing for more than a couple of decades, it is interesting to see what appears to be an overall drop in job positions that are looking for experience with them. (Caveat: the drop in MS Word-related Technical Writer job postings is smaller than the widest monthly variation observed; another year ought to confirm if this trend is real).

DITA Experience vs. Other Standards

This does not tell the whole story, as jobs seeking DITA experience displays a steady increase when compared to other technical writing standards. Here’s what the numbers for the past year show:

Technical Writer Standards graph

The increase in expected knowledge for HTML and CSS that technical writers are expected to have illustrates how this sector continues to move from print-based to online publications. No surprise there really.

Of the technical writing standards listed, the need for DITA experience comes out on top, and is clearly growing.

What I find interesting is a general decline in requests for general XML knowledge, which appears to be offset by requests for specific, named XML standards such as DITA and SGML, and to a lesser extent S1000D.

DocBook is a dead thing. When I started tracking it back in November of last year, it constituted 0.5% of all technical writing job postings. It has declined steadily since then, now sitting at only 0.15% of such jobs. In straight numbers, of the 2,609 technical writing jobs posted this past month on Indeed.com, only four asked for DocBook experience. In comparison, 116 were looking for DITA experience, 48 for SGML, and 18 for S1000D.

Firms Seeking Writers with Structured Content Experience is Growing

What can be concluded from these numbers? It is clear that DITA is not a passing fad, and that there is continued and growing support for this within those companies seeking technical writers. As the benefits of writing in DITA is becoming more widely known (concise topic-based content, reuse, cheaper translation costs, etc.), and as inter-company DITA usage grows within various industry sectors (such as the semiconductor and telecommunications industry) this trend seems likely to grow.

It’s also clear that technical writers still largely operate within a world of unstructured content. This is changing, but the rate of change is slow. We’re not at the point where having DITA experience is a “must-have” for many firms seeking technical writers, but increasingly it is an important skill to have.

To help put this in perspective, FrameMaker experience is required in just under 10% of all technical writing jobs posted in the States, and in comparison just under half that number are seeking experience with DITA. 

DITA is clearly here to stay, and is in it for the long haul.

Next article: What are the types of firms who are working with topic-based writing and DITA, and why?


Yellow Pencil (www.yellowpencil.com) provides DITA training services along with information architecture and content strategy services for firms looking to move to structured content for their technical writing and web content teams.