Re: Word/Doc-To-Help/Acrobat Combination

Subject: Re: Word/Doc-To-Help/Acrobat Combination
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- SIMPLYWRITTEN -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 5 Feb 1999 10:12:18 -0500

>I am not only new to this mailing list, I am new to technical writing also.
>There is one question that I would like to put forward immediately. The
>company that has hired me uses the software combination of Word97,
>Doc-To-Help, and Abode Acrobat. In reading your posts over the past two
>days, I have seen that many of you do not use this particular combination.
>Is there a better software setup that a technical writer can use to produce
>hard-copy documents, help files, and on-line documentation? I realize that
>this can be very subjective, but I would like to get a general feeling
>towards peoples' opinion on this matter.

Ah, Brian, the eternally recurring question. Check the archives and you'll
doubtless find voluminous records about this, shall we say, volatile
question. Please realize that the comments below are only useful if you know
what the tools are really intended to do. If you're totally new to the
profession, you may not actually benefit from having anything advanced in
your kit.

In my view, Word97 and D2H are tools that are either for short, occasional
work, or when the corporation is blindly forcing it on the practitioner. I
use Word extensively, have programmed in it, manipulated data with it,
learned firsthand its wild ways; and I've used D2H. Nowadays, our techdoc
publishing tool (note that it's not a "dtp" tool) is FrameMaker. Stable,
programmable, automated, it's beyond a doubt the most suitable tool out
there for serious creators of long documents. Ventura and Interleaf bring up
a distant second and third. In its class, there isn't anything to seriously
challenge Frame. PageMaker and Quark are for shorter materials and aren't
even marketed against Frame.

For help, we usually try to single-source without any kind of intermediate
tool, but when I need a true HAT, I reach for ForeHelp, hands-down and big
smiles all around. Compared to RoboHelp, it's like a road grader up next to
a snow shovel. Unlike RoboHelp, it isn't document-centered, but
database-centered, which gives it much greater flexibility. It's from
ForeFront. Tell 'em I sent you.

Acrobat is about the only serious contender among the page-turners nowadays.
It's easy to use, has good flexibility, and can run almost anywhere. And it
goes on the Web very well. It does, however, take some experience and skill
to use well, because there are always graphics and font issues. And a good
knowledge of PostScript doesn't hurt, either.

Now, all of these tools take training and experience in their respective
fields. Frame is only powerful in the hands of somebody who knows what to do
with it. Ditto ForeHelp and Acrobat. None of these are no-brainers. The tool
doesn't make the practitioner. Be prepared to spend a year or more learning
the ins and outs of the subject matter before you even think of maxing out
the tools. For now, it might be prudent to stick with the old kludges you
know and slowly take classes, buy books, and experiment on your own time,
learning what to do once you get your hands on the controls of faster
vehicles.

Tim Altom
Adobe Certified Expert, Acrobat
Simply Written, Inc.
The FrameMaker support people
Ask about Clustar Method training and consulting
317.899.5882
http://www.simplywritten.com


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