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The Blind Leading the Enlightened

The Blind Leading the Enlightened by Brian Gillett, Alison Middleton and Chris Munro

The Blind Leading the Enlightened

by Brian Gillett, Alison Middleton and Chris Munro

Having read, with interest, the recent articles about the virtues (or otherwise) of Microsoft Word as a tool for producing technical documents we feel the real issue is not how to create technical documents using Microsoft Word, but rather what tool best suits the task. We suggest that the selection of the most appropriate tool be instigated by those enlightened people -- the Technical Publications people -- and not the business managers with little knowledge of the specialist needs of Technical Publications.

AST is a Technical Publications agency producing documentation which integrates into our clients’ existing standards and software. Thus the need to integrate increasingly means we have to produce documentation in Microsoft Word, which often is our clients’ preferred in-house software package.

The key word above is preferred. On talking to our customers it is not their preferred software package, but rather the software selected by the unenlightened within their companies who have deemed that Microsoft Word best integrates into their existing company business software, namely Microsoft Office.

In the early days of Microsoft Windows, this seemed like a sensible move. Source information in the form of text, generated within the company, could easily be incorporated or restyled into a Microsoft Word technical publication. This argument, however, shows little regard for either the need to integrate graphics from a variety of software packages or the size of the resultant technical publication.

The selection of Microsoft Word as opposed to a Desktop Publishing Package designed specifically for the task of integrating graphics into complex publications with distinct sections, automatically generating indexes, contents and cross-references, has been left to those without the necessary insight into the specific needs of a Technical Publications department. The argument for ease of integration is no longer valid with the advent of Windows based versions of all the proprietary DTP packages.

Technical publications are unlike any other business publications in that they stretch non-DTP software packages often to breaking point -- as suggested by Thomas O’Connors’s article (TC Forum 1-98).

We suggest that Technical Publications departments stand up for themselves and insist that the selection of tools for their tasks be left to themselves. Their specialist knowledge of producing (and amending) technical publications from source information supplied from a range of software packages, and the complexity of the resultant technical publication puts them in the best position to select a tool that is best suited to the task.

Should not the enlightened lead the blind ?

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