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Technical Writing on a Shoestring: Open Source Tools That Can Save Your Technical Writing Departmen

TechWhirl WebsiteTechWhirl Website United StatesPosts: 396 admin
edited September 2013 via Wordpress in Technical Writing and Communications
imageTechnical Writing on a Shoestring: Open Source Tools That Can Save Your Technical Writing Department Money

The current economic decline has decimated many technical writing department budgets. But, the demand for quality documentation and training material has not abated. As more companies compete for a smaller customer base, the ability to create software that is easy to use and that also provides the customer with a wide variety of options for help is critical. How can you, as a technical writer offer top-notch documentation and help materials on a tight budget? While there are several facets to this question, selection of tools is paramount. One of the most obvious ways to save money is to use open source, low cost, or free software.

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  • MelindaMelinda Posts: 4
    via Wordpress
    When I started working in April, my company had no software available and were trying to use Google Docs for everything. I tried to do technical writing with just that feature but simple things as tables were unavailable or frustrating to create. Within one day, I found Open Office that worked until the company finally gave me a copy InDesign 5. For photos, it is Gimp along with tutorials found here http://blog.meetthegimp.org/. anyway, thanks for the heads up on resources for shoe string budgets.
  • RalphRalph Posts: 2
    via Wordpress
    OpenOffice, which was backed by Sun Microsystems, came under the control of Oracle when that company purchased Sun. It was not long afterward that the project was forked and LibreOffice began under the auspices of The Document Foundation. LibreOffice is now the standard suite included with Ubuntu and most Linux distributions.
  • RalphRalph Posts: 2
    via Wordpress
    For Camtasia, a desktop recording application, you can substitute Camstudio Open Source on the Windows platform. There are a number of tools on the Linux side. Camtasia also has a trial offer good for 30 days, IIRC.

    If you can't afford Adobe Acrobat, but need to make PDF files, both OpenOffice and LibreOffice do a good job of exporting to PDF without outside software.
  • Tony ChungTony Chung United StatesPosts: 4 ✭✭✭
    via Wordpress
    I may get heat for this, but I see no reason why a professional should scrimp when it comes to tools. Open source tools are great, but they have limitations. Also, when you work for multiple clients, they may not be able to open the files you create in other applications. An enterprise that takes itself seriously should know to provide industry standard tools to their staff.

    When 80% of the business world uses Microsoft Office, find a way to get it. I spend a lot of time developing templates and VBA code. I have a hard enough time keeping three versions of Office straight, let alone inconsistencies in free software due to patent limitations.

    Most of the companies I worked for used Visio. I prefer Inkscape, but the file format is non-standard SVG, and Visio doesn't open images with gradients properly. Once I imported a file into Visio I had to redo a lot of the images. I would have saved time by jumping right into Visio.

    Regarding graphics, Photoshop is the industry standard. GIMP is good for general use, but reduced images look blurry compared to when performed by Photoshop. I prefer Picasa for free image editing, but its features are limited.

    When more enterprises jump to XML authoring, I see more client-server work than offline. Browser based XML editing tools will become more popular. It will be interesting to see how the world develops to accommodate this.
  • Dennis DivineDennis Divine Posts: 2
    via Wordpress
    3 free tools worth a mention that could be of technical writing use are Zoho, Google's Sketchup, & Evernote.

    I first saw an article reviewing the free online word processor Zoho in the New York Times; it's a nicely-organized program that has some impressive symbol choices, such as ones for making equations.

    Google's Skethup download is a nice little drawing program with the support of Google's deep pockets. It's meant for the novice with more sophisticated features that can be used as necessary, & I'm told that it is vastly simpler to learn than pricey drafting software such as Autodesk Inventor or AutoCAD. With a number of downloadable plug-ins available from Google, Sketchup files have some compatibility with other graphics/drafting software.

    I just discovered Evernote within the last month--the basic downloadable program is free, & it's comparable to Microsoft's OneNote as a notetaking organizer. It seems to offer decent support too.
  • NueraNuera Posts: 2
    via Wordpress
  • MartMart Posts: 1
    via Wordpress
    We were looking for a low cost tool for the creation of online technical documentation for our software products. Since we couldn't find one we created our own. We've released this under the AGPL as free open source software


    I hope some people find it useful. You can see the kind of online documentation it produces here...

  • Great article. Thanks for all the suggestions. We already use (and recommend) GIMP. For the writing I'd recommend http://helpndoc.com/. It's free to use and powerful enough that you won't need much else.
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