RE: Framemaker, Word and Robohelp

Subject: RE: Framemaker, Word and Robohelp
From: Chris Gooch <Chris -at- lightwork -dot- co -dot- uk>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 18 Jan 2001 14:48:06 -0000

John Gilger wrote:

Wouldn't it make more sense to have the members of the writing team
who are
best developers of content (writers) use simpler software such as
vi, or (my personal favorite cyber-swiss-army-knife) emacs to write
in text
files and having one or two of your best layout gurus using a good
setting, markup, or layout program (TeX, SGML, Framemaker, Word ...)
the stuff and make it look pretty?

Apologies for coming in a bit late on this thread... a combination of time
being in digest mode, and workload :-)

My own perspective as the only (currently) writer at a software company is
that I rely
on my SMEs (software developers) to write quite a lot text which I can then
This is especially so for some more straightforward parts of the
(for example a page of technical documentation for each API in our product

I have them do this in plain text form (some send me ascii - some use Word,
I then convert to ascii). I then edit/re-write as necessary, and typeset
using LaTeX.

Doing things this way provides several advantages;

1) There is no learning overhead for the SMEs to use as a reason not to
provide me with source material

2) There is no cost overhead to the SMEs providing me with source
(in terms of FrameMaker or god forbid Robohelp licences this is not
insubstantial to a small company with a large number of developers).

3) I don't have to undo the bad or non standard formatting that would
otherwise result.

4) I can concentrate on editing and improving the material I am giving,
and writing new / extra material where it is required.

5) I also retain control of indexing, cross referencing, and version
without this being a constraint on my SMEs doing some writing for

To my way of thinking (which I admit is influenced by the fact that I am a
devotee), there is and should be a clear distinction between writing clearly
presenting (in the case of printed information this means typesetting) that
writing. Using a mark-up system such as LaTeX or SGML forces you to think
good writing being a case of organising things logically --- the visual
should be simpy a function of the logical structure, and therefore can be
to the computer (with a human checking and tweaking the results where
Once you have good quality style files, you should trust the layout to flow
the logical structure.

Of course there are some aspects, such as design of tables and diagrams,
where a visual approach is necessary. I simply encourage my SMEs to
present such information as simply and clearly as possible using whatever
tool(s) they are comfortable with --- I then re-work as necessary (it isn't

This approach seems to have been working quite well for us for a while now,
and it's a model that's served book publishing well for (hundreds of) years.
My SMEs are happy in that they have no obstacles placed in their path,
and see nice results (their text, nicely typeset, proofed, indexed, etc.
in a nice book) at the end of the day, and therefore see the benefit of
me with source material -- making my job much easier.

Just my 2 new pence's worth. The software I document by the way is
software programming toolkit stuff rather than end-user GUI stuff, by the
way, which does make a difference.

Christopher Gooch, Technical Author,
LightWork Design Ltd., Sheffield, England.

chris -at- lightwork -dot- co -dot- uk

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