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I'm a mechanical engineer in a company that produces industrial machines. We're not a huge company and I don't believe we've ever had a trained technical writing specialist - our story is far from unique. Our primary technical document is an Installation, Operation, and Maintenance manual for our machinery. I'd love to hire a technical writer, but I estimate we have much less than a part-time job worth of workload. Our customer base is a bit old school, so I anticipate us still producing a traditional manual for some years now, rather than structured online documentation.
Without getting into history, we currently have the IOM document files in Engineering. They had been in Marketing, and they moved all of the documents to Word format - I suspect because they didn't understand the difference. We've limped along and are planning to change this set-up, hence my interest in the expertise here.
I see several opportunities for improvement:
- Our documents in Word format are not done with strict formatting rules in Word. As I'm sure you know, they can drive an ordinary user (me) nuts and lead one to making work-arounds to get the print to come out acceptably correct. Editing them is very challenging because of these buried rabbit holes and the fact that each user applys Word formatting differently. I'm thinking it would be wise to move over to a better software and clean up the formatting in the conversion process. So what software would be a better match for our level of usage and training? Or can Word be used efficiently if we simply re-train and standardize our usage?
- We have an individual interested in supporting this work as a part-time responsibility. It seems to me we should plan for some training, get a style guide going, etc and that this investment will work out better than contracting the work. Any suggestions for doing that?
- I did a little bit of research into the craft of Tech Writing and it seems that having a style guide would be immensely useful to clean and control our content. Is there a style guide that we can borrow as a starting point?
- Our IOM template documents contain a lot of redundant information. Changes in Terms and Conditions for example are difficult because they have been copy/pasted into dozens of documents. I started with the Framemaker product page and it's awash with tech writing buzzwords that aren't in common English. What technology / software can do this simply?
- Any other tips are appreciated.