Archive for October, 2009

So How Do You Get Ahead?

With the economy in the shape it is, we need a way to put ourselves above the competition.  There’s one way in particular that I’d like to address: dita.  Dita is a markup language (like html), it’s new, and it’s hot.  Since it’s new not as many tech writers know how to use it, but companies are beginning to think they need it.

The major advantage is once you’ve created a document in dita form, you can immediately convert it into about five different formats, including pdf.  That means you can be far more picky about format without wasting time (since the process comes out to a few seconds).  You’ll be able to make a better product in less time.  That’s good for the company and better for you.


John R Larsen

Categories: General

Why Would You Need Creative Tools?

My last post addressed some creative tools a technical writer needs, but it didn’t address why exactly they need them.  The answer is technical writers create material, and they need to know how to present it in the best way possible.  An easy example to illustrate: you’re on a webpage and something doesn’t work.  The help menu is nothing but text, so you close the tab and bide your time.  Now maybe you’d use it if it were mostly pictures and links to short, effective videos?  That’s what a technical writer needs to do, and s/he just can’t do that without the right tools.

Briefly yours,

John R Larsen

Categories: Technology

Four Things Every Technical Writer Should Have

I recently attended a professional conference where I learned four categories of programs every technical writer needs.  Those categories are

1.  Help Authoring Tool

2.  Page Layout Tool

3.  Graphics Tool

4.  Video Tool

There are a few applications for each category, but I’m going to focus more on the programs made by Adobe.  Please understand–I’m not being fake, and I’m not trying to advertise; it really is my personal preference.  My feeling is that Adobe creates powerful tools well suited to do their work.

Madcap Flare is a good authoring tool.  It isn’t as expensive as other programs, but it’s also not the most powerful.  If what you want is power, I recommend you buy Author It.  It’s very powerful; it’s just also very expensive.

Adobe InDesign is a great page layout tool.  I’ve used it, myself, and have been delighted by how user-friendly it is.  Don’t get the wrong idea–it’s still challenging, but it’s nothing you couldn’t figure out on your own.  Another advantage of using InDesign is that it can connect with other Adobe programs if you have the Adobe Creative Suite.

You should try Adobe Illustrator for your graphics tool.  It’s very powerful, and also very similar to Adobe InDesign.  In that respect, it can prove very convenient.

Adobe Captivate, Camtasia Studio, and Flash are all good video tools.  The important thing is to have a tool you can feel confident using and to use it well.

Which programs you use isn’t the major issue.  I do think it’s easier to use programs that behave similarly, though, so you might like to browse through your options and see which combination of tools is the most fitting.  At the end of the day, my recommendations aren’t your law.


John R Larsen

Categories: Technology