Adobe FrameMaker is the Documentation Standard
Adobe FrameMaker is the industry standard for writing book-length technical documentation. It is a powerful program capable of creating books of well over a thousand pages. The learning curve for the program is significant. Adobe FrameMaker is a much different animal than Microsoft Word and other word processors.
It uses, not surprisingly, a frame system (pre-designed pages that text flows into) for creating pages. The user designs frames to apply to pages. Each frame can contain a combination of text and graphics. Those frames either operate as separate and distinct units or flow from page to page. Using these frames, the user sets up master pages and reference pages. These pages allow the user to create a standardized, but still very malleable, series of pages. The user can design a page to implement at the beginning of a chapter, for example, or design a page specifically for tables, graphs, or other graphics. Creating templates can be tedious, but once they are operational and you know the shortcuts, you can develop documents quickly.
Adobe FrameMaker versus Microsoft Word
In addition to the frames, another feature that separates Adobe FrameMaker from Word is its ability to create character formats, paragraph formats and implement variables. Microsoft Word has these capabilities, but they are much more limited than Adobe FrameMaker’s. More importantly, few Microsoft users have ever bothered to explore these higher functions and they remain quite buggy.
Adobe FrameMaker’s greatest feature is its bookmaker. The bookmaker allows you to develop different files around different functions. For example, you can have a file for the cover, for the front matter, for the table of contents, for each chapter, for the appendices, for the glossary and for the index. The bookmaker then keeps track of all these documents and makes sure they cooperate for such tasks as updating the table of contents and the index.
In my situation, the form of the pages was long ago set. I do not have to develop pages or frames from scratch. Unfortunately, many of the documents I will work with were written in the 1990s using Adobe FrameMaker 4. The current version of Adobe FrameMaker is 9, and many changes have occurred in the interface and the document handling. Because of that, I must subtly massage the documents to bring them into line with current standards. For example, there are some invalid fonts and minor formatting flaws that I have to look out for.