Re: Problems when reproducing manuals, etc.

Subject: Re: Problems when reproducing manuals, etc.
From: Tamara Peters <1455 -at- MN2 -dot- LAWSON -dot- LAWSON -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 21 Apr 1995 09:37:00 CDT

I have evolved through tech writing and DTP in a little different manner: in
a recent job I held, it was considered the tech writers' responsibility to
oversee the manual from conception to maturity. This included obtaining
high-res negatives from a disk/tape copy of our PageMaker manuals, proofing
the negatives (usually a xerox that the printer gave us), attending a press
check if we thought it necessary, and reviewing the final print run before
it was accepted. We were responsible for all aspects of design as well,
including technical illustration and any color work.

Typical problems? Typos, of course, were always our responsibility because
we went straight from disk to negative. These are generally considered the
customer's responsibility to find, not the printer's problem. When printing
two-color (or more), we had to be careful about alignment, color choice, and
print run quality. This one is fuzzy, a lot of printers could do better if
they understand you are *serious* about quality, but you have to know what
quality is and insist upon it. Last minute changes? We did have a process
for doing this: since we were electronically generating negatives at a
reasonable price, we could adjust a page or two, run those negatives, and
replace the first copy. Someone (in this case the writer) has to be very
sure the original was destroyed so there was no chance of the wrong page
being printed. Of course, this adds time and money, depending upon when you
make the change. Both the printer and the writer need to understand the
effects of these types of changes. At press check, it is generally up to the
customer's judgment to pronounce the color balance OK, ask the printer to
check the alignment, to request an adjustment in the quality of the print
job after looking over copy carefully, etc. The printers I worked with were
always extremely responsive when they realized I wanted a *really good
piece*, and some took a lot of time to educate me on terminology and what
they could/couldn't do. And when we received final copy, our receiving clerk
was instructed to pull random samples from the print run, and the writer
looked over the quality, color, alignment, etc. If it wasn't up to par, we
could reject the whole shipment.

We generally worked with no more than three print houses, and took the time
to get to know our reps and how they liked to work. My best experience was
with a smaller, family-owned/run print shop that was willing to grow with
us. They bought a Linotronic, worked very flexibly with us to get a system
going so we could simply modem files with a standard request form, get
copies of the negs dropped off the next day, fax or modem back changes, and
then get a date to come for press check. They may not have been cheapest up
front, but over time, we saved a lot of money and effort, and got better
results with less errors.

The printing industry is rather subjective; I am not sure this would
translate well into training materials. I don't think there is a substitute
for experience, for getting to know your printer(s), for being firm with the
printers on issues of deadlines and quality, and for the writer
understanding the process. My own opinion is that it's better to get the
writer more educated and involved in the process than to expect most print
houses to be accountable for the problems encountered. That way if they want
to do "fancy" things, they understand what they are asking of the printer
and why it costs so much/takes so long, and they can make better decisions
on how far to take graphics, color, etc.

Finally, I'll end my epistle with a more concrete suggestion: Take the
writers on a tour, with a printing rep who is not a sales rep. Leave some
time for open discussion of specifics between the writers, graphics artists,
etc., and the printer. I spent several half days in this fashion -- it was
free (except for our time), and I learned a lot!

Good Luck!

Tamara Peters
Technical Communicator
Lawson Software

tamara -dot- peters -at- lawson -dot- com
To: Multiple recipients of list TECHWR-L
Subject: Problems when reproducing manuals, etc.
Date: Thursday, 20 April, 1995 11:02AM

Hello Techwrlers:

I've been a lurker for a long time (I did post an informational message
recently) and now I could use some input from fellow technical writers. My
does not relate directly to the writing part of what we do, but to what
to our work when it goes to the printer for reproduction.

A colleague suggested that I develop training to make printing companies
of the needs of technical writers. One printing company is interested in the
training if I put something together. Unfortunately, my clients have handled
that aspect to date, so I do not have experience to draw upon. The idea is
make the printer aware of issues and problems we encounter during (probably
like after) reproduction.

So here's my request:

What kinds of problems have you had when getting a manual (or other

What could the printer have done to avoid the problem?

What are the things you'd like the printer to check for or be aware of
during, and after reproduction?

Do you think there are a sufficient number of issues to warrant holding a
"training session?" As you can tell from my question, I'm not sure that I
even hold a one-hour session on the topic.

Please send all reponses directly to me at my email address
(73654 -dot- 1420 -at- compuserve -dot- com). I don't get to read every digest I receive and

don't want to miss any of your posts. I'll post a summary if you are

Thanks for your help.

Linda Gallagher
TechCom Plus

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