Technical Writing, Documentation, and Training

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Expert tips, advice, opinions, and viewpoints.

Apparently Adobe has gotten serious about changing their mind about giving up on the technical documentation market. After reviving RoboHelp in response to MadCap’s success with Flare, they’ve just now come out with a new version of FrameMaker, the first release since FrameMaker for the Abacus in 208 B.C.

Among the exciting new features in FrameMaker 8: Support for Flash. Which is great, because I’ve been looking for a way to get animated banner ads into user manuals for years.

Seven is the Magic Number

Studies have shown that people can remember between five and nine items at a time depending on the information. By using a range of adding two or subtracting two, we get the number seven.

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Too… Many… Formats…

With so many image formats to choose from, how do you know which one will work best for your documentation? Here’s a quick primer:

GIF
GIF images are usually very tiny – they are great for web graphics. Also, the GIF format supports transparency, something that also makes GIF images good for web applications (since it makes it easy to place irregularly-shaped images on top of patterned backgrounds). You can also create animated GIFs, which you can use for web applications as well as PowerPoint slides, but be careful – like the blink tag, animated GIFs can be very annoying when they are misused or overused.

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Here are a few links to some interesting things I’ve read recently that might be of interest to fellow technical writers:

  • Web Worker Daily recently published an article on underused (or maybe under-publicized?) Google features. My favorite is Google Alerts – I can have Google send me an e-mail whenever it generates any search results related to a particular keyword. It seems like it could be a handy tool for tracking recent developments related to a certain news story, product, or industry.
  • The Photoshop Blog has a really nice posting which links to tutorials for creating several types of text effects using Photoshop or a comparable image editor. This looks like a good place to brush up on some image editing skills…
  • Draw Anywhere screen capDrawAnywhere is a cool web-based tool which lets you draw simple diagrams and charts using nothing but a web browser and an Internet connection. This is something that could really be convenient for any technical writers that need to create quick flowcharts or diagrams while working far away from any licensed copies of Visio.
Tips for using Camtasia Studio Version 3.1.0

I have recently developed some software instructional videos for one of our clients using Camtasia Studio. When developing these videos, I noticed a glitch in the program and I thought I would share what I found and how I managed to work around the error.

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With the best intentions, I’ve wanted to write about the field of technical writing. Having been in the industry for well over 20 years, I thought I might have a tip or two to share with the rest of the community of writers. Alas, my intentions, while good, weren’t sufficient to get me to sit down after a day’s work and write something more! So I felt that a blog, at least the informality of it, would allow me and the people I work with to publish ideas and tips that might be useful to others. That’s our hope.

Welcome and Links

Welcome to the Shoap Technical Services blog. Our team will be commenting on business, technology, and, of course, technical writing from our own unique perspective as consultants in the high-tech world.

A couple of interesting links from my bookmarks in the past few weeks:

  • Old Meets New – Apple created the user documentation for the iPhone using FrameMaker 6, which was released in 2000. Interesting, as FrameMaker 6 is still one of the best, most robust tools in our arsenal here as well. (via DaringFireball)
  • Give ‘em Something to Talk About – On creating products that people will talk about: “When people with different opinions compromise, they meet in the middle, not at the edge. But the edge is what sparks conversation.” (via Signal vs. Noise)