MS Word — Number One Among Tools for a Tech Writer?

It’s the twenty-first century we’re living in with a lot of tools to facilitate a person’s life. Technical writers are no exception: if long before we had to create our documentation by hand — using various kinds of writing utensils, then we switched to typewriters and printing machines, and at last computers.

Technical writer’s tools are evolving constantly like everything else, offering different solutions with lots of features that accelerate the process of creating technical content. There are tooling available for different purposes — authoring, publishing, screen captures, drawing, image manipulation, and more.

Microsoft Word is the first tool that first comes to mind for any technical writer. What makes it so popular is its simple look combined with a sufficient set of features.

According to a report from Microsoft, 1 out of every 7 persons uses MS Word for their work.

Statistics also say that about 80 percent of students use MS Word for individual work, while 13 percent use it for group work.

In the beginning, MS Word was my main tool. I had to do quite a bit of saving documents into various different formats and manipulating them depending on how they were going to be used.

Microsoft Word was getting more powerful. The WYSIWYG improvements, integration of graphics and tables, and linking with the wider Office suite tools made it a tempting tool for large organisations to focus their investments on. PDFs could be created with ease which also accelerated the consolidation of Word.

But of course, in technical communication, it is not enough. Word has a struggle with large documents, as in pages so, in file-size, the various tables of contents features never seemed reliable, and templates and styles you had spent days creating could be erased by the less careful colleagues.

So much for the paperless office. The limited communications capacity often forced writers and readers to print documents or save them locally, causing version control trouble.

Tools for Technical Writers

In the last ten years, digital documentation has started to become the norm for authoring, publishing, and reading. Progressive companies recognized the importance of applying such principles as:

  • separating the content from the published format;
  • reuse;
  • topic-based authoring for flexible, modular sets of information;
  • HTML web-content. Which is easy to publish and distribute as PDF and print;
  • teamwork and ease of collaboration;
  • straightforward reviewing and editing.

These digital documentation principles are embedded in tools. Help authoring tools suit different customer contexts, and they are all applying the new principles.

With ClickHelp, document creation is not controlled by the output media, making it a great tool to be used for end-to-end documentation such as user guides and online help. It is a piece of software that allows documents to be created and manipulated to a customer’s specifications. You can also import Excel files containing your planned content structure, and create your topic file structure at the push of a button.

The advances in technology improved the delivery and turnaround of documents. However, the training and maintaining the required skillsets for authoring can be a formidable task.

It is always useful to have some knowledge of the markup language behind these products, as it can be very helpful when investigating output errors. Hence it’s a requirement for authors, young and old, to keep up to date in the packages being used and ensure they still have the practical knowledge to fix these issues.

And, although technical communication tools have changed dramatically, the fundamental and distinctive skill of being able to design and write clear, useful content has remained the same for the past two decades. Thankfully, that skill will always be needed, even as new devices and methods of content delivery replace the current latest thing. So embrace changes and use them to your advantage, and remember that every day is a school day!

Stay well!

Amrit.

“Follow the river and you will get to the sea.”

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Passionate technical writer

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Amrit Singh

Amrit Singh

Passionate technical writer

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