Customizing stylesheets: Why should you bother?

Stylesheets are crucial to the DITA documentation production cycles. They’re what will make your documents exist, look yours, and look great.

When migrating to DITA, you might think it obvious to fully subcontract stylesheets customization. Hey, you’re only going to need the stylesheets to be customized once, and then you’ll use them forever. And XSL seems so complicated, and so out of reach for tech writers, that it seems unavoidable to subcontract.

Think about it twice, though. In practice, if you’ve already started using DITA, you’ll probably have realized this : subcontracting is often needed, but it’s rarely sufficient. Can you really wait, once your product is ready for release, and your documentation in DITA is finalized, for your subcontractor to troubleshoot the last minute issue you’re faced with, which completely blocks PDF or HTML transformation (true story)? Have you ever been frustrated when the only thing that gets generated is a log file which you cannot decipher? Have you ever wondered, as a tech writer, whether the display issue you’re faced with is due to your DITA file or to the stylesheet? Don’t you think at least someone in your team should have a grasp of such an essential topic as document publication?

This presentation will rely on real-life examples to discuss whether internal stylesheets expertise should be promoted. It will present the pros and the cons of developing in your team some stylesheets expertise, and it will try to offer ways to do so.

Who is presenting?

Yamina Dessein has been working for 3 years at the Product Labeling Department in bioMérieux, an In-Vitro Diagnostics pioneering company. She presented 2 years ago at DITA Europe, as a tech writer, on “Highly Regulated Industries & DITA:  The Medical Devices Example”. Now an Information Architect & Stylesheets Developer, she supports a documentation team of around 30 in creating and migrating Instructions for Use in a DITA-CMS. She is responsible for developing and updating stylesheets based on the DITA-OT, as per the company graphical charter and the tech writers’ recommendations.


Frederic Fontbonne has been working for nearly 20 years in the technical writing field and for 5 years at the Product Labeling Department in bioMérieux, an In-Vitro Diagnostics pioneering company. He was employed as a technical writer and participated to the selection, validation and implementation of a DITA CCMS tool. He is now responsible for planning migration activities and supporting tech writers and translation coordinators in their use of the system.


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