Tip of the month from PRC
Current trends in technical
Released 4 January
We accept Mastercard/Eurocard/Maestro/JBC and Visa!
Tip of the month is edited by Peter
Ring, PRC (Peter Ring Consultants, Denmark)
- consultants on how to write
user friendly manuals
More electronically published manuals
- More widespread
use. Until a year or two ago, electronic media manuals almost didn't
exist outside the Help files for computers and software. The only exceptions
to this rules were heavy maintenance manuals (cars, aeroplanes, etc.) to
be placed on the workshop's computer for easy search facilities, and quick
and easy updates.
we see more and more companies publishing their paper manuals electronically
in addition to (or - rarely - even replacing) the paper based manuals,
either on the Internet or on CD-ROMs. The reasons are mainly ...
- To solve
language problems. Wherever you are in the World, you can get the manual
you need in any of the languages it is translated to. This solves ...
- the language
problems for ethnic minorities (e.g. Turkish in Germany)
- the language
problems for very international businesses like the shipping industry, where
a captain of a British ship buys an equipment in Italy for to be used and
maintained by his Philippine crew.
- the problems
with the need for making the user un-friendly multi-language manuals.
- To distribute
updates in a fast and cheap way, mainly via the Internet.
Acrobat and RTF (Rich Text Format) gains ground as the "de facto"
industry standards for different purposes:
- Over the
past year we have seen a growing acceptance of the Adobe Acrobat format
for electronic distribution of manuals. The reasons are primarily:
- Free readers
for many software platforms.
- They can
be "locked" as read only.
- They can
be made by a few keystrokes when the paper based manual is ready. This is
especially the case if the paper based manual has been written in FrameMaker
- They can
include internal and external clickable links. If made with programmes with
suitable export facilities (e.g. FrameMaker and PageMaker) the internal and
external links in these documents are preserved, and the automatically generated
TOC (Table of Contents) and Index is automatically made clickable links.
- Adobe Acrobat
files are increasingly used for distribution of proofreading copies.
- Good old
RTF is gaining ground as a useful format for multi-platform
exchange of editable documents including formatted text, tables,
and graphics. It's not the perfect solution, but if you are careful when
designing the document avoiding certain special effects it is often a good
Multilevel-style user manuals
between HTML and the improved (e.g. Windows) Help as the dominating language
for non-paper based manuals. Other competitors are Java and various multimedia
Print on demand
manuals for complicated products to very different user groups (e.g.
consumer electronics) has always been one of the big problems within technical
writing. An acceptable - but not ideal - solution is multilevel-style, where
you e.g. write the beginners' stuff in the style of cartoon with short assisting
texts, the general user's stuff as cartoon with full text, and the advanced
user's stuff as illustrated text.
FrameMaker is gaining ground within technical writing
- Print on
demand is now close to become an economically acceptable solution. Experiments
in 1997 has shown, that print on demand in some cases is only marginally
more expensive than the ordinary "printed manuals on stock". The advantages
of "print on demand" are ...
problem solved. The customer can get the manual in the desired language(s)
without getting maybe five other disturbing languages in the same manual.
- You can
make dedicated customer-tailored manuals to the customers specific application
or user level.
reluctance to solve the problems in MS Word with long documents (incl. the
still catastrophically bug-ridden Master Document feature) has opened the
market for other solutions, and here Adobe FrameMaker more and more looks
like the winner. It is generally considered somewhat more difficult to learn,
and maybe also to use. There also seems to be problems with conversion to/from
other formats, depending of how they are formatted. But it is known to be
a stable programme, and it features colour separation and transfer of links
to Adobe Acrobat files (see above).
If you disagree
with these ideas - or have other relevant points, experiences, or ideas +/-,
please e-mail me
Ideas for new "Tip of the
month" subjects are very welcome, too!
last month's tip
Go to a list of old tips
Return to the User Friendly Manuals' homepage