Advice for manuals

Subject: Advice for manuals
From: Paula Reynolds <PAULAR -at- HISPEED -dot- MHS -dot- COMPUSERVE -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 14 Dec 1994 17:05:09 EST


I post every so often to the group looking for advice. I've fallen into
technical writing, and I'm often clueless. My counterpart in the company
has been out on disability since February, so I'm a bit overwhelmed and
can't think too clearly at this point in the year. (yeah, i
know...excuses, excuses.)

Here's the situation: I work for a manufacturing firm. We produce
machines and computerized controls; I do the manuals for them all. The
machine texts are reasonably standard on my end, as well as vague. We
don't have a specified product, so the details on the machines change
...oh, I don't know...daily, perhaps. Okay, a bit of an exaggeration,
but you get the idea. The control text has so many variations that I
can't begin to cope. What was done before I came here (and I continue to
do) is to have a basic control text that has almost all of the options.
My job, besides MOL, is to write "special instructions" for machine and
control texts. For example, customer Y wants this feature that isn't in
the "standard" I write it and incorporate it into the manual.

Progress: The heat is on to overhaul the documentation process.
Ideally, they'd like to produce manuals that are *only what the customer
ordered*. Sounds great, but aside from the internal logistics, I'm not
sure how to produce them. The idea is that I will write it, and someone
else will build the manual. For example, if Machine-Control with Z,A,M,
and R is ordered, our in-house software will have a part number for the
text associated with Z,A,M, and R. Sounds like no problem....just pull
Z,A,M, and R off the shelf, right? Or train someone to pull it off the
archive system, right? Well, what about a table of contents?

Tools: Today I'm using Word for Windows 2.0c. The rumor is that by
1995, Word for Windows 6.0 will be loaded. I have at my disposal
PageMaker and Corel, but I'm familiar with neither (I told you I fell
into this). Oh yeah, we also have various graphics to be included. I
finally got our scanner to work, so we can have our original
illustrations scanned into the document.

Questions: What I'm planning is to write the stuff, incorporate various
codes, and then train someone (or several someones) how to pull a
complete manual together. The problem is that the person who is supposed
to do this doesn't have a 386 computer, even, and is word
processor-illiterate. Am I being too ambitious? Is there an easier
solution that I don't know about? What big holes am I missing?

Budget: None. I'm often expected to produce blood from stone, and
unfortunately, I've done that. I was too young; I hadn't learned that
once you stay and work an extra 20 hours to meet the crisis, that the
crisis will occur every month and you're expected to pull it off.

I'm hoping for lots of advice. I'm also grateful for a place to vent.


Paula Reynolds
Technical Writer
paular -at- hispeed -dot- mhs -dot- compuserve -dot- com

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