Choices other than Word

Subject: Choices other than Word
From: Dan Hall <Dan -at- cooper -dot- com>
To: "'techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com'" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 29 Sep 2000 07:36:19 -0700

Hello, Grace.

Welcome to the wonderful world of technical writing.

There are a number of choices of software for DTP out there besides Word.
Quark Express, Adobe InDesign, and Corel Ventura are page layout programs,
mainly used for magazine production, etc., although some tech writers do a
bang-up job creating technical docs using them. Corel WordPerfect is very
similar to Word in many ways, and has a user base that is fairly large, but
by no means as large as Word. And finally, there's the other program you
mentioned, Adobe Framemaker.

Quark, Ventura, and InDesign are generally not considered the best choice
for writing tech docs. They focus on graphics intensive, single-page
layouts. Maintaining multiple text flows or creating TOC's and indexes would
be a manual procedure in these programs.

Corel's WordPerfect is very similar to Word, and there are a number of folks
out there who swear by it. I find it very similar to Word. There are some
areas where it excels, and others where its quirks are on a par with those
in Word.

So we come down to Framemaker vs. Word. As a user of both products, I have
to say that the choice should be influenced by your experience and what
goals are.

Learning Framemaker, for a longtime Windows user, can be a little
frustrating. Most of Frame works outside the bounds of standard Windows
interactions. For instance, at low resolutions, the entire screen disappears
when you look at the list of fonts. This "nonstandard" format means that
things you might be able to "figure out" in Word will require looking up (at
least at first) in Frame. The table tool is less than intuitive, which is
frustrating. There is no support for drag and drop, which makes me more
frustrated. There's only a single level of undo, which makes me want to put
a shotgun in my mouth and ... . All that said, Framemaker is worlds above
Word if you're writing graphics heavy docs in the hundreds (or thousands) of
pages with multiple chapters. And the ability to apply styles to great
swaths of text is invaluable. Frame's a program I wouldn't want to be

Word (because it is made by MS) does a fairly good job of following standard
Windows program conventions. It is also something that has a huge installed
base of users, so sharing Word files is usually quite easy. However, it does
a terrible job when graphics are on the line. I'm sure many list users can
testify to how frustrating it is to open a document and find that all your
images have moved from where they were placed. Or to add a sentence and find
all your page breaks have shifted, so the images and paras no longer match.
It also crashes regularly. Word 2000 is better at keeping long docs together
(especially if you've got gobs of RAM) but it still fails too often to be
useful for longer docs.

I use Word and Frame pretty much every day. I'm fortunate in that the
company I work for has purchased the most recent versions of both, and
really doesn't watch over our shoulders to be sure we're using the "right"
tool. When I'm writing notes and memos, letters and short docs, I use Word.
For manuals, I use Frame. When my goal is quick and easy, multiple undo,
drag-and-drop, I use Word. When my goal is to write a 500 page doc with 200
pics that's stable, I use Frame.

If you're a power Word user, creating fairly short docs, and you know how to
work around or avoid all the pitfalls, there's no real reason to switch. If
you're having lots of problems, or expect to, by all means look into Frame.
The "Framemaker for Dummies" book comes with a free trial of Frame (full
version, but you can't save) so you can check it out for yourself.

Against stupidity the very gods Themselves contend in vain.
Johann Christian Friedrich von Schiller, The Maid of Orleans

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