RE: Desktop publishing software?

Subject: RE: Desktop publishing software?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, "'Helen Thackray'" <HThackray -at- uniwell -dot- co -dot- uk>
Date: Mon, 18 Sep 2000 15:26:49 -0400

Helen Thackray wonders <<... Does anyone have any advise on which desktop
publishing software to buy? We roduce
operation manuals of about 60 to 200 pages containing a lot of screen shots,
diagrams and tables. Due to ever looming deadlines I need a package that
isn't too difficult to learn, although I am fluent in Word and Forehelp I
have never used any desktop publishing software before.>>

Since you're already working in Word, and don't have much time to learn
something new, you should probably keep working in Word and build on your
existing strengths. (With a few exceptions, the software you use has less
effect on the quality of the final design than your inherent design
knowledge.) The advantages of changing to a new program at this point (which
can be considerable) probably don't merit the grief you'll experience. Word
isn't the most stable or powerful tool for producing manuals, but many
techwhirlers use it with considerable success for much more demanding
projects than those you've described.

There are really two main options if you find that you need more desktop
publishing power. PageMaker (or InDesign) and Quark represent the best
choice if you're producing really design-intensive manuals for which
artistic merit is at least as important as the content (probably not the
case for you); Quark is currently the leading contender, since PageMaker is
often awkward and seems to have been abandoned by Adobe, and since InDesign
is still suffering from serious birthing pains. (InDesign will be a serious
competitor with Quark another release or so down the road.) FrameMaker is a
much better choice for long technical documents, since it beats Word seven
ways to Sunday for these documents and ditto for the design-intensive
software. But any of these choices will make it easier than with Word to
publish HTML or to typeset material using a Linotronic or other high-end
typesetter. But again, if Word is working for you now, stick with it until
your needs change.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Technical writing... requires understanding the audience, understanding
what activities the user wants to accomplish, and translating the often
idiosyncratic and unplanned design into something that appears to make
sense."--Donald Norman, The Invisible Computer

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