New book fills a gap: Word for technical writers

January 8, 2008

This just popped into my mailbox.

A couple of technical and medical writers in North Carolina have written Microsoft Word for Technical and Medical Writers.

Many of you are familiar with the—in my opinion, false—debates on Frame vs. Word. The truth is that for the types of complex documents we create, Frame is hands-down the superior tool.

But that doesn’t mean our customers or managers allow us to write in Frame. In fact, it’s a pretty safe guess that most technical and medical writers work primarily in Word.

And we need help because Word can be a pain!

Many manuals on Word have been published, but they aren’t written for people who write the types of documents we do. This book begins to fill the gap. I say “begins” because after a quick glance at the table of contents, it’s clearly just a basic introduction. I’d have to look at the book itself to see how much help they offer with those irritating section breaks and numbered lists. However, if the index starts on page 147, there can’t be much meat in it. And the price: $39.95 (ouch!)

A chapter on screenshots would have been helpful if they really wanted to sell to the tech writer audience. And I saw nothing on the Thesaurus or SpellCheck. Any professional writer should understand the power and pitfalls of those tools.

Also missing is Track Changes. If we are forced to write in Word, chances are the subject matter experts who review our work will enter their edits using that feature. If they forget to turn on Track Changes, it’s useful to understand the Compare Documents command, which allows you to see the difference between two documents.

It’s not clear from the ad copy or the cover which version of Word the book refers to. Word 2007 has a much different menu (the Ribbon) than earlier versions. Not sure what the upgrade rate has been thus far, but if this edition deals with Word 2003, the authors should plan to do an update for 2007 soon.

Having said all of that, I think this book would be great for many of my non–tech comm coworkers, particularly the section on how to use styles. So few Word users understand that feature.

It would be good for someone to review this for STC’s Technical Communications publication. (Heidi?)


Two new books to watch for

June 7, 2007

Three long-time STC leaders and authorities in the field of technical communication announced their upcoming books at the STC Summit this year.
Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works by Ginny Redish will be out this month. It’s a paperback with 384 pages, selling for $49.95. Ginny distributed flyers with a 20% discount offer at her session in Minneapolis. Here’s an excerpt from the flyer:

On the web, whether on the job or at home, we usually want to grab information and use it quickly. We go to the web to get answers to questions or to complete tasks — to gather information, reading only what we need. We are all too busy to read much on the web.

This book helps you write successfully for web users.

  • Clearly-explained guidelines with full color illustrations and examples from actual web sites throughout the book.
  • Written in in an easy-to-read style with many “befores” and “afters.”
  • Specific guidelines for web-based press releases, legal notices, and other documents.
  • Tips on making web content accessible for people with special needs.

A Research Primer for Technical Communication: Methods, Exemplars, and Analyses
by Atlanta chapter members Michael A. Hughes and George F. Hayhoe will be out in August. This 256-page paperback sells for $34.50. The publicity from the book says the following:

Offering a solid grounding in the research underpinnings of the technical communication field, this resource has been developed for use in master’s level and upper-division undergraduate research methods courses in technical and professional communication, and will serve other courses requiring students to perform research and report their results. It will also be of great use to practitioners in technical and professional communication who wish to advance their knowledge of applied research in that community of practice.