To DTP or not to DTP, that's the question

Subject: To DTP or not to DTP, that's the question
From: "Peter Ring, PRC" <prc -at- PIP -dot- DKNET -dot- DK>
Date: Mon, 22 Apr 1996 10:18:52 +1

Hi Techwriters,

I have followed the discussion on whether a techwriter should be able
to do the DTP work or not with great interest. And as usual in a good
discussion there are two schools here: the text purists and the DTP
fans. Originally I was very text oriented, now I see it from the
users' viewpoint and that has oriented me much more towards DTP.

But I have missed two very important points in the discussion.

1. The users' viewpoint - who are your readers?
If your users are all highly educated people (e.g. pilots), you
can get away with "text only" manuals or manuals where the
illustrations are few and referred to as "see Fig. 3.4 on page 567"
142 pages away. They don't like them, but they can read them and
they will do so because they have to. But if your users are workers
or you are selling to normal households, the situation is different.
Then you have to write in a user friendly way, and that means a close
integration of text and graphics, and a lot of emphasis on user
friendly lay-out.

2. The development of word processors to include DTP facilities!
Many years ago we wrote in handwriting, added a few schetches of the
illustrations, and then had a secretary to type the text and an artist
or lay-out man to made the illustrations. This way of separating the
processes is still reflected in many organisations, where people
distinguish between writers, artists, lay-out people and DTP'ers.

But DTP is not any longer complicated programmes like the DOS
versions of Ventura. DTP facilities has been more and more integrated
in the text processors since the generation of MS Word 2.0, and today
you generally only need a DTP system if you use color illustrations.
And that's only because the printers has problems with color
separations from e.g. MS Word 6/7 files. On the other hand,
DTP systems are not so difficult to use as they used to be.

This means that a good techwriter today is not only a good writer,
(s)he is also familiar with how to illustrate the ideas or even
better: make the pictures the carriers of the message and let the
text mainly contain additional information only.

A good textwriter _need_ not to be a DTP expert, but unless (s)he is
writing for very special highly educated readers (s)he must must know
how to integrate text and pictures in a paedagogical way, directed to
the level of the product users, and must be able to lay-out the pages
based on the company standards for manuals. Because that is the only
way to ensure the paedagogical line can be kept.

Greetings from Denmark
Peter Ring
PRC - specialist in user friendly manuals and quality measurements on manuals
prc -at- pip -dot- dknet -dot- dk
- homepage on user friendly instruction manuals with tips for writers.

PS: I have been notified, that my homepage was not accessible for some
days last week. The problem appeared to be, that Windows 95 renamed the old
Win3.1 files to Win95 names starting with an uppercase letter, that UNIX
(used by my host) is case sensitive, and that my FTP programme transfers
the Win95 names. The problem is now solved by renaming all files and
internal references to 100% lowercase names.

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