The most important skills for a technical writer are writing, editing, and design. However, these skills are not enough to make you a successful technical writer. You also need to learn how to use authoring tools.
The most widely used publishing tools are:
- Microsoft Word
FrameMaker is a desktop publishing and a help authoring application created by Adobe Systems. It is used by technical writers as a publication tool for creating large documents. Its latest version is 7.2.
Advantages of FrameMaker:
- Useful for writing large and complex documents.
- Creating a PDF is easy and the user can create bookmarks, links, and other PDF features.
- Easier to change the layout of a document using Master pages. A master page is created whenever the user creates a new document. It is used to decide the layout of the document.
- Text in tables can be rotated.
- Can print a rotated page with normal headers and footers, which means that the text can be in Landscape mode whereas the headers and footers are in Portrait mode.
- Has good color options. They include CMYK and Pantone.
- It can handle a lot of graphics.
- Has a number of cross-book features. One of them is to search and spell-check the whole book. This feature is useful for dealing with large books.
- Has good flexibility in numbering options. It has built-in variables for chapter and volume numbering. It can also handle long numbered lists without any errors.
- Allows you to set up numbering for steps or procedures.
- Cross-referencing can be added easily. You can also define formats for your cross-references.
- Can customize and save table formats.
- Character and paragraph formats selection lists are displayed as windows. They can be moved on the screen as convenient.
- FrameMaker supports conditional text.
- Easier to create single source documentation set in FrameMaker. Single sourcing allows you to use the same content in many documents. For example, if your user guide and admin guide have some common topics, it is easier to share them rather than maintaining separate copies.
- Has Webworks Publisher, which is a powerful tool used to produce HTML, XML, or RTF output.
Disadvantages of FrameMaker:
- Has a steep learning curve for Word users.
- FrameMaker for Windows does not have macros.
- Undo is limited to one action.
- Cannot right-click and paste selected text. You have to use the keyboard commands or use the Edit menu for it.
- Has an unpredictable spell-checker.
- Drag-and-drop feature is not present in FrameMaker.
- Does not have grammar checker.
- Inserting graphics is a very awkward. You first need to create an anchored frame, insert the graphic, and then manually resize it.
- Find command does not stop when it reaches the end of the document. It keeps on continuing.
- Have to manually format table columns.
Microsoft Word is word processing software used to create documents. It is a powerful tool to create professional looking documents.
Advantages of Microsoft Word:
- Many help authoring tools are available such as RoboHelp. Help authoring tools (HAT) are used to create online help manuals and are used by technical writers. They get the source text from programs like HTML and Word and generate output in formats like Microsoft WinHelp or Adobe PDF.
- Has a good spell-checker features like on-the-fly spell checking, removing the spell-check dialog box out of the way when it selects text, and informing the user when it reaches the end of the document.
- Can use track changes to review documents.
- Has a good grammar checker.
- Has the ability to “undo” many times.
- Has macros, which can automate repetitive actions.
- Can open two parts of a document in one window using Word.
Disadvantages of Microsoft Word:
- Not stable for large documents. It gets slow while handling large volumes.
- Difficult to have a single-source documentation set.
- Does not run on Unix.
- Does not handle multi-document features like headers, footers, indexes, table of contents, cross-references, etc very well.
FrameMaker is best suited for large documents or documents with a lot of files, such as books and user manuals. Word is better for smaller documents like reports, newsletters, writing letters, and memos. However, Word is much easier to use and has many advanced features.
Most of the features of FrameMaker can be implemented in Word, but FrameMaker manages large documents better and also has good cross-referencing and multiple file support.
Both Adobe FrameMaker and Microsoft Word are powerful, professional authoring tools. Both have strengths and weaknesses. To decide which is best for you, look closely at the type of document you need to write.