My Choice For Writing Technical Manuals
I’ve been researching software that could be used for writing technical manuals.Â My requirements include:
- Doesn’t go crazy when I change formatting around (unlike MS Word)
- Low cost or no cost, unless the benefits are overwhelming.
- Reasonably good control over layout, but I don’t need super-precise control.
- Easy to create Table Of Contents and cross-linked references.
- Handles graphics, tables, and lists with aplomb.
- Good, well written information (help, books,Â blogs) available so I can quickly learn how to do what I want to do.
- Easy to update text and improve text.
- Easy to change formatting (for example, by using styles and updating the styles).
- Good performance with long documents.Â A lot of writers create one document per chapter, but I want to keep the whole manual in one document so it’s easier to create references, TOC, and such.
The basic types of programs available are:
- Word processors, such as Word and Writer, that focus on the content and not on precise formatting.
- DTP (desk top publishing) software such as Scribus, Adobe InDesign, and Quark Express that are really optimized for page layout; they typically don’t handle editing well, and often choke on long documents.
- I took a long look at the open source Scribus program, but decided that this category wasn’t a good fit.Â I expect the manual to be updated frequently, while precise layout simply isn’t needed.
- Very structured software such as Framemaker and the TeX variants. These are more structured than I need, plus I want something more graphical than TeX.
My choice is LibreOffice Writer because:
- Writer has better DTP capabilities than MS Word.Â For example, it has styles for pages, characters, and frames, not just paragraphs.Â Â A typography extension is available as are a couple of free, high quality fonts.
- Writer is roughly comparable to Framemaker in capabilities (see here and here).
- Writer is free, which is nice.
- Writer doesn’t seem to go crazy when re-formatting; when I import my lengthy Word document and start changing styles, it does what I expect, unlike Word.Â Performance on a 200 page document is acceptable.
- There is some very good documentation available, including:
- The reference manuals
- At least three good blogs (Taming Open Office, OpenOffice.org Training, Tips, and Ideas, and Bruce Byfield (who has blogged a lot on both OpenOffice/LibreOffice and Scribus)
- At least two books on using Writer to create books (Self Publishing Using Writer, Writer For Writers and Advanced Users).
I plan to write an update when the manual is finished.