Shareware help tools: suggestions?

Subject: Shareware help tools: suggestions?
From: Cathy Quinones <quinones -at- MINDSPRING -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 10 Jan 1996 12:45:41 EST

Hi folks,

Budget-conscious, self-taught wanna-be tech writer has some questions:

I'm currently trying to teach myself how to write on-line
documentation (help files and the such). Following up on a (pure
genius!) recommendation by Rick Lippincott, I posted to one of
shareware newsgroups offering to write on-line docs for free (I write
it, if they like it they keep it, my "pay" is their permission to use
the document as a writing sample). So far I've gotten 4 offers, I'm
following up on them. Most of the replies have been *very* positive
(along the lines of "wow, this sounds too good to be true, if it works
out we may have you do more work for us" and "I need documentation,
I'm not a tech writer, help!, we can share profits"). I'm not asking
for pay at this point because what I want is the experience, plus, I'm
a complete neophyte and god knows what my learning curve will be like
and how long it will take me to complete these projects. (Folks here
will be pleased to hear that all 4 programmers clearly said that
although they have provided their software with some "readme" files
and even on-line help, they feel they are primarily programmers and
that a tech writer can no doubt significantly improve their product.)

My question, however, is about shareware documentation tools: can you
experienced folks recommend any programs? I simply can't afford to
spend hundreds of $ in RoboHelp or whatever is the best/trendiest
package out there. What I need right now is to locate a tool that
will get me started, and that will give me some experiences that will
be applicable when I (hopefully) move on to RoboHelp and other late
20th-century tools. Should I get started using a shareware program,
or should I just get going using Microsoft Word and .rtf files? Has
anyone used the Microsoft Windows Help Compiler that comes with
CA-Realizer software? Where do I start??! Aaack!

I need to go to the bookstore and get a book on the topic, I know (and
thanks to Kimberly Ferri for her bibliography!). In the meantime, I
would appreciate shareware recommendations, plus whatever wisdom is
available for free :)


Regarding the certification thread: I think that reading this list is
a better education in technical writing than most people get in
college. Maybe subscribing and keeping up with this list should be
THE requirement for certification??? :) Thanks to everyone for
accelerating my education, and hail to the virtual classroom!

Cathy Quinones
quinones -at- mindspring -dot- com
(that's my web page with pet bird care info)

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