RE: Manuals in InDesign

Subject: RE: Manuals in InDesign
From: Peter Gold <peter -at- knowhowpro -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 17 Aug 2005 02:43:34 -0500

Hi, Claire:

I never used InDesign before my current position and have always been a
FrameMaker proponent. However, after using it a bit (not an expert of
all its features by any means) I can see the allure of it.=20

We use Frame for our larger technical docs (installation guides,
operations manuals) usually over 50 pages. Our end user docs (like
viewer's guides), datasheets, and white papers are done in InDesign. I
like IDs flexibility for page layout and graphics and once you learn
some of the basics of master pages, text frames, layers, and story
editor, it doesn't seem that difficult to me.=20

Most FrameMaker users aren't aware that it's possible to use FM as a layout-oriented tool with multiple-flow (multiple-story) layouts, and flexible and varied page designs. Because of its common use as a straightforward document-layout tool, the visual-design side of FM is usually overlooked.

The greatest layout shortcoming in FM is its inability to number left and right pages separately in a two-page spread that's laid-out on a single large page. While the appearance of the page numbers can be achieved simply enough, page numbers in TOCs and cross-references aren't correct. If you can live without such two-page spread layouts, or without correct page numbers, you'll find that you're more likely to run out of visual creativity before FM runs out of ability to keep up with your needs.

I found page numbering difficult in ID, but easy in Frame. (Could be a
user thing, not a software thing.) I like the book feature of Frame, and
haven't found anything similar in ID. (Could be my inexperience there,

ID is smart enough about numbering pages, and it does have a book feature; put in some time with the help, manual, and experimentation.

I know there is a lot that InDesign does that I'm not familiar with, but
I do like it for layout, and feel it is a good tool for documents that
need more of a marketing flair. For more plain technical documentation
(not to mention single-sourcing and WWP features), I'd still stay with

Elsewhere in this thread, someone referred to "long documents," in the context of page count. The "long-document" issue, IMO, is an unfortunate marketing-department characterization that's stuck to FM for a long time. It's not the length of the document that is FM's true strength; rather, it's the complexity it supports. Complex information-management features such as hyperlinked generated lists and indexes, cross-references, numbered lists, cross-document numbering, layout-intelligent paragraph formats - such as run-in, side heading, and cross-column ("straddle"), conditional text, smart running headers and footers, intelligent master page application, up to 100 master page designs per file, and a variety of anchored frame capabilities - ALL BULLETPROOF AND RELIABLE - are what make FM right for the task.

Some of these features and abilities are available for ID in third-party free and commercial tools and scripts, and others are likely in development. ID's plug-in design was created to attract third-party developers.

One key advantage that ID has over FM, currently, in addition to the ability to treat page numbers correctly on a multiple-page (up to ten pages) spread, is its ability to create various graphic effects, such as transparency, drop shadows, gradients, multiple-layers, type filled with images and other graphic effects, and far-richer typographic controls. However, FM can import graphics created in other tools and preserve their effects.

For single-source workflows that include the need to publish electronic help systems as well as print, Web, and PDF, FM is currently better suited than ID, because of its ability to work so closely with WebWorks Publisher Professional.

So, if both attractive visual design and solid support for "information-intensive" features are part of your requirements, using FM and taking greater advantage of its layout features should go far in satisfying them.

If FM's design limitations aren't enough to satisfy the visual requirements, it's a simple matter to export FM to Word or RTF and import that into ID. By authoring the original content in FM, ID becomes just another output from the single source model. Not so simple, but not impossible, is exporting from FM to XML for import into ID.


Peter Gold
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