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Microsoft Word 2010 for Technical Manuals

I’m in the process of slowly updating a technical manual; it’s currently in Microsoft Word, and was created by merging several earlier manuals.  The manual is over 200 pages long, and contains many photos, illustrations, and tables.

And I’m ready to dump Word.  I’ve used Word before, starting with Word 95, to write tech manuals but I’ve taken a lengthy break from tech writing.

I’m not a fan of the ribbon interface.  It’s like Apple stuff — it works great if you think as the designers do, but doesn’t work well if you think differently.  All those big icons and such make the supposedly more common stuff easier to find, but it makes the other features harder to find.  The ribbon interface makes it harder to explore and find out all of a program’s capabilities compared to browsing through menus.

I don’t like the current Word Q&A help system, either.  OK, I may be an old curmudgeon, since I haven’t like Word’s help since Word 95 — I think that was the last version that really tried to explain the basic concepts such as styles.

In my experience, Word can work pretty well if you start from scratch and lay out everything first, such as your styles.  If you have a Word document with inconsistent styles, lots of manual formatting, etc, and you’re trying to substantially modify its structure and appearance, watch out.

My current document’s problems include styles automatically changing when I try to apply them (and then changing the formatting of all the text tagged with that style to something I don’t like), tables flying apart or flipping when I delete some text or an object, and such.  I’ve quickly grown tired of re-doing the same thing over and over, so Word is out for lengthy technical documents.

2 comments

1 Paolo { 08.15.14 at 10:46 pm }

Actually, I would say that the ribbon is exactly the contrary of what Apple does. If you look at Pages (or to Final Cut Pro), even the most arcane command is easy to reach. It is just laid out in a logical (and subdued) way. The ribbon forces you to work in a particular way, hides things in remote places, and is always shouting loud ‘look at me, look at my neon-light Home button’!

2 Tony { 10.10.14 at 9:30 am }

Maybe Apple does a good design for newbies and power users with their desktop software; I do give them credit for caring a lot about user interfaces. However, they don’t provide a wide range of options, and don’t work well with others.

To give some examples in areas I care about, I can’t make an industrial HMI and put iOS or OS X on it (but I can use Android, Linux, or Windows). I can’t make my own desktop and use OS X. I can’t get a 17″ laptop workstation from Apple. I can’t side-install software on iOS. IIRC, I have to use a Mac to develop for OS X, and am supposed to use a language that was leading edge in 1985 (Object C), but is now dated. And Apple keyboards are crap. It’s great that Apple stuff works well for so many people, but it doesn’t fit me.

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