RE: need to compile a wish list

Subject: RE: need to compile a wish list
From: "Sella Rush" <sellar -at- mail -dot- apptechsys -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2000 12:20:07 -0700

From a fellow lone tech writer:

When choosing between Frame and Word, the following three factors must be
weighed against each other:

1) which tool best meets your specific documentation needs
(cross-referencing, large vs. small docs, etc.)
2) which will fit most smoothly into your team workflow
3) which are you most familiar/comfortable with

For me as a lone writer for a small startup, factor 2 turned out to be the
decider. The team I work on is very fluid; all the programmers and other
personnel write up blurbs or papers on what they're working on, and everyone
shares this information. I use their rough text for my purposes, and they
use pieces of my documentation when communicating with colleagues and
clients. Added to that is the fact that our entire shop uses MS office and
other products because we subscribe to MSDN.

In this environment, it makes sense for me to use Word over Framemaker,
rather than to create barriers between me and the rest of the team. And
because Word is more than sufficient to handle my documentation needs, it
became the logical choice.

Other wish list comments:

* Based on recommendations from people on this list, I now have 2 computers
on my desk (ok, one's my laptop). This setup lets me run the application I'm
documenting on one system while documenting using the other. I don't have
to flip back and forth between windows, I don't have to lose my
documentation if the app crashes; it really streamlines my process. (If
you're like many lone tech writers, you also test applications as well as
your own online documentation--having two computers with two different
operating systems may be useful. I have WinNT on one and Win98 on the
other, with Linux in the next cubicle and a Sun Microstation across the

* Put some thought into what and how you'll be producing documentation and
other material. Do you expect to be involved in marketing or other
informational materials? Do you know that your material will have a long
life span? As a small startup, until recently we haven't had the marketing
budget for professional printing (which didn't make sense anyway because we
weren't printing large batches of anything). Investing in a really good
color printer allowed us to print individual or short runs of material, and
change the material as we evolved (this happened a lot!). Along the same
lines, we also produce our own CDs and print our own labels (lots of our
work is for specific clients, so the CD labels can be customized); for this
we use a Signature CD printer and CDs with a printable surface (TDK makes
some with a silver surface that look really good). Also--do you have a good
copier or an account at a local printer or Kinkos? Trust me, if you get to
the point where you have to make twelve copies of a 450-page documentation
set, you're going to want a copier and a decent binder, or access to someone
who'll do it for you. It'll save you hours and almost certainly be cost
efficient (unless you've got access to a lower-paid clerk who'll do
it--lucky you).

* Make sure any computer you have is equipped with plenty of RAM,
especially if you're using RoboHelp and if you're only using one computer.
Don't let them stick you with any low RAM, tiny hard drive reject, because
it won't cut it. I'm very happy with my PII-400, 256meg RAM, and a 10-gig
hard drive. I wish I had a zip drive (because I have one at home) or a
CD-RW, but they're both available on the network.

* Not sure if you're working with HTML or not (if not, why not?), but I use
Homesite for preference. I also use MS Visual Interdev used by our web
developers to contribute text, help with interface design, add online help.

* Also consider how you're going to handle document management. Do some
research. My little shop uses source safe, and that's worked fine for me to
make sure things are backed up and provide easy access to documentation. I
use my own database to keep track of things, but a good document management
tool would probably come in very handy.

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