Sometimes technical writers have to make a decision: what tool should they choose for writing documentation. And sometimes the choice is limited to FrameMaker and MS Word. In this topic, I’ll try to answer a question: which is better for writing documentation?
Everyone knows what MS Word is and how to work with it — you just open a document and start typing text. It has only the basic features for text formatting, so, basically, you can easily make your texts not only be, but also look professional. In my article called ‘MS Word Tricks for Technical Writers’ I mentioned features that not all tech writers are aware of, so you can use them to save your time.
Now, let’s have a look at Adobe FrameMaker.
FrameMaker is a desktop publishing program that allows creating a document that enforces a tight structure. FrameMaker offers its powerful tools in the most accessible ways for individuals as well as teams. A large set of publishing options enables you to customize and deliver your content to multiple devices: generate PDF, Responsive HTML5, or output for Kindle devices, among other output formats. These are only some of the most basic features — FrameMaker can do more. Here is a neat infographic that overviews its main features:
To learn more about FrameMaker features you can visit their website.
Now it’s time to go over their pros and cons and see what’s better for documentation writing.
MS Word’s Weaknesses
- It doesn’t really handles well large files and starts acting once you try to feed it a 100-pages long document. It may even crash or won’t open at all on weaker systems.
- Formatting diagrams and images can be uncomfortable.
- Creating templates in Word is limited, as is more suitable for writing letters than doing any serious technical writing.
- Compiling the TOC and indexes for multiple files takes a lot of time.
- If you need another format, you should use a third-party tool to convert it to PDF, for example.
MS Word’s Strengths
- The UI is simple and intuitive; novices of the technical writing sphere can use it easily.
- Nothing will disturb you because MS Word has a limited set of features.
- It may be expensive for some companies or especially freelancers.
- It will take the time to learn how to use it.
- Ideal for creating large documents or books i.e. 200+ pages.
- FrameMaker creates TOC and indexes across the whole book.
- It’s easy to format multiple paragraphs, tables and the like.
- FrameMaker is excellent for producing complex printed manuals.
Keep in mind, that I’m not trying to say whether one tool is good and the other is bad. They were created for different purposes and sometimes if you face problems while working with them, it may mean that the tool is not right for the job.
So, if you need to write letters or small texts, use MS Word. If you write complex documentations or large chunks of texts (like a book), buy FrameMaker. However, I recommend that you have a look at more professional tools for technical writing like ClickHelp, MadCap Flare, Help & Manual and so on.
I use ClickHelp for technical writing because it has all the features that are essential for the technical writing process. Here is an infographic that shows some of ClickHelp features. If you want to learn more, visit their website.
It’s up to you what you should choose, and it depends on your goals and budget. Of course, MS Word is cheaper than professional help authoring tools but evaluate objectively how many hours you spend on converting and formatting texts in MS Word when you can easily do it in one tool.