Technical Writing Design: Five Software Packages for Technical Writers
September 25, 2014
•Graphic Design, General
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Technical writers require an array of software packages to do what they do best. From user manuals and formal guides to Web content and other forms of complex documentation, technical writing design requires professionals who are savvy in several specific software packages.
Every good technical writer knows the ins and outs of word processing software. While the most popular among these are Microsoft Word, Word Perfect and Corel Write, there are many other lesser-known systems that savvy technical writers should know how to use. Some of them include Text Maker, Kingsoft Writer, Ability Write and RagTime.
But while these are used for developing content, technical writers often take on projects that require technical writing design aspects when developing complex documentation. This often requires knowing languages and software packages that are used for specialized layouts, formats and visuals. The following are some of the software suites you will need to know if you want to break into a career in technical writing.
Adobe FrameMaker is designed to help technical writers create and edit highly complex and structured documents. FrameMaker is great for technical writing design that involves image placing and editing, specialized formatting and XML editing. Because it is one of the most well-known technical writing design suites from the ever-popular Adobe, it has a massive user base with tons of online support, tips and recommendations.
Adobe InDesign is often used in tandem with FrameMaker, but it has more support for visuals and design aspects of technical writing than FrameMaker. It is often used to create posters, fliers, brochures, manuals, magazines, newspapers and book layouts. The software allows for an array of exporting functions that work well with FrameMaker, although FrameMaker has the ability to track multifiled documents, where InDesign simply allows you to work on one or just a few instances of projects.
Former Adobe and Macromedia developers helped create MadCap Software, which includes MadCap Flare, a help-authoring tool that generates content output in HTML, PDF, XPS, WebHelp and others. Much of MadCap's software programs are used to develop complex, interlinked Web pages and content often needed for large FAQ or Web help pages. This function is similar to RoboHelp, which is a complementary system that comes along with Adobe FrameMaker.
Developed in 1984, LaTeX is a document-preparation suite that contains its own document markup language. It is mostly used for publication of academic or scientific documents. It has developed its own typeset and layout format designed to assist academics or technical professionals to focus on content without having to worry about the formatting or layout until the end of a section or even an entire project.
PTC Arbortext Editor
PTC, Inc., specializes in computer-aided design (CAD), 2-D and 3-D software, engineering calculation and, of course, technical documentation. PTC Arbortext is used to create and edit highly complex documentation widely used in engineering fields. It can produce output with 2-D and 3-D illustrations, making the package popular for projects that call for operator and maintenance manuals, service guides and learning and training tools.
These software packages are a definite requirement if you want to break into technical writing, technical publishing and technical writing design. Those who take the time to learn these very specific, nuanced and technical suites are setting themselves up for lasting career in technical writing.
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