RE: Is Word Formatting in End-User docs important? (A mini-rant?)

Subject: RE: Is Word Formatting in End-User docs important? (A mini-rant?)
From: Marguerite Krupp <mkrupp -at- cisco -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 29 Nov 2000 10:08:23 -0500

Jim Shaeffer wrote:

Just as this discussion of the proper way to use Word to format documents
flared up, Bill Hall posted (in the Real Value thread) an argument that
technical writers flourish when relieved of needing to bother with such
He quotes savings arising from a structured writing environment simply
because writers write, instead of fussing with formats, output designs, etc.

And I wonder:
Does anybody remember Runoff, NROFF/TROFF, and similar markup languages
that, depending on your point of view, either "gave the writer more direct
control of how your document looked" or "removed the necessity of worrying
about formatting, because someone in Production would enter all the format
codes your book needed"?

In my own experience, WYSIWYG composition, with solid document templates, is
the way to go if efficiency is your criterion. I have seen writers spending
a lot of time getting their markup languages to do what a WYSIWYG tool could
do very quickly. Yes, I do code (or at least tweak) my own HTML, mainly
because the tools I've used don't do it well I don't want to get into a
tools war here.

My point is, that a structured writing environment by itself does not
guarantee savings, as Bill said, "because writers write, instead of fussing
with formats, output designs, etc." Before you can talk about "structured
writing," you have to define what you mean by that term. My personal
definition is primarily architectural. Others have defined it as
"subject/verb/object" sentence order and limited vocabulary. There's a lot
of room in between, and without an agreed-upon definition, this debate can
generate a lot of smoke.

IMHO, the savings come not from "freedom from having to format" your stuff,
but from information reusability, potentially lower translation costs, and
other "meta-stuff" not directly related to things writers fuss about. Also
IMHO, the information design (including the formatting, graphics, page
layout, etc.) is all part of the communication, and as a writer, I'm
reluctant to give up that tool.

Guess this is more than $0.02 worth. Make that a nickel's worth!


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