Looking for advice on how to find a good training course for a small group in the Salisbury (Wiltshire) area. The course needs to cover book files, TOCs, cross referencing, PDF setup, and hopefully some Acrobat PDF finishing techniques. It would help if it was geared towards technical writing.
Are there any references or accreditations from Adobe that I should look for?
(The last course our office went on taught some bad practice in paragraph numbering - by using separate paratags to reset numbering, rather than nested numbering whare each level is reset by the one above. I would like to make sure we don't get anything similar this time.)
We do have some really cool tutorials for various features and tools in FrameMaker, some of your questions would get covered and apart from that you can learn a lot more in Structured FrameMaker domain.
Check these -- http://tv.adobe.com/product/framemaker/
Hope these helps !
Unfortunately, good or bad practices are not prescribed by the tool. As fas as I know, the Adobe Certified Expert program looks at technical knowledge about the products rather than methodology that might be considered good practice in a specific domain. Which is fine for a tools provider but leaves you with little to base your choice of trainers on.
One thing that can greatly improve the quality and consistency of your team's writing, especially in the technical writing domain, is the use of Structured FrameMaker. With just a little extra training about the Structure View and a non-technical introduction into the XML-like model on which this approach is based, this authoring environment will help your team to avoid all kinds of problems and bad practices. The structure defines what is possible for the author and also handles automatic formatting of elements according to where they reside in the document. Dragging and dropping materials to restructure the documents becomes very easy and cannot invalidate the structure or the formatting.
I would be more than happy to deliver a beginner's course in Structured FrameMaker in the UK, tailored to your needs, i.e. including all the topics you mention plus the creation and maintenance of the EDD you will need to start using Structured FrameMaker. I can also provide automated conversion of legacy FM documents to Structured FrameMaker, so you would not have to start writing again from scratch.
That's a very interesting point you make, and we will have to give it some serious thought. I have a fair bit of experience using Structured FrameMaker from a previous job (though not with creation and maintenance of EDDs), and you are absolutely right about the difference it would make to our output.
However I'm not quite sure how it would work out where I work now. Most of our output is (currently) on paper, we publish in very low volumes and most of our work has a limited lifespan. We have to cover a wide variety of books on quite a few different platforms - so quite a lot of different formats/EDDs are required. In addition, we do a lot of fragmented work, where we produce individual procedures and amended pages for insertion into existing books - as I recall, this would be a problem in Structure FM, where modules are generally amended as a whole.
I'm sure we could standardise our formatting more than we do at the moment. But I think that unless we were to completely re-think the way we work, the ratio of time spent on EDD maintenance v. producing output would be on the uneconomical side. I would be interested in your opinion and any suggestions you have.
If the EDD is well-designed it does not include any specific formatting. I know I am stepping on some toes here, but in your situation I think this is a valid observation. And even those who do like the formatting capabilities in the EDD will agree that the most important aspect of the EDD is the structure. Formatting is derived from the structure and is basically a method to show the reader - who does not see any of the meta information that is hiding below the surface - what the structure really is.
This makes the formatting a crucial aspect: the reader is lost without a clear link between formatting and intended structure. If your steps are incorrectly numbered because the author was too tired or distracted to spot the incorrect application of a format tag, the user may not be able to understand a procedure anymore. Such errors are much easier to spot in a structured design, where format tags are assigned based on that structure.
So even if you are working in "unstructured" FrameMaker, you are applying structure all the time. The main difference is that this structure is largely implicit (except if all your authors work from a strict style guide that includes a full description of item ordering and nesting, i.e. structure of the content) and is not enforced by the editing environment.
In my approach, I use the EDD is solely as an explicit and enforceable definition of the structure. The formatting expresses that structure by strict rules, which the author cannot (or should not) overrule. But as the translation from the structure to the formatting in my EDDs goes exclusively via paragraph and character format tags, there is still the option to change those formats without ever opening the EDD.
Apart from making the changes in formatting easier to manage and safer to apply, this means that you can have a whole set of templates - which you probably already have - and importing formats from a different template makes everything look like that target, without changing the underlying structure.
About the matter of replacing snippets of unstructured content by structured content instead of redoing entire modules: I would have to study the options for mixing structured and unstructured content a little more to see if there might be a less painful migration path. I will get back to you about this - I am finishing a couple of projects at the moment, so I do not have the time to run the tests that are surfacing in my mind while I am typing this. I know there must be many options that I have not yet seen explored. I also know how much Structured FrameMaker offers compared to using FrameMaker as just another text editor.
Regarding references and accreditations: The FrameMaker 10 Certified Expert exam (the latest exam available) is weighted toward advanced knowledge of both structured FrameMaker and single sourcing/multichannel publishing. (I have current ACE and ACI in each of the Tech Comm Suite products )
If you are interested in someone with workflow and practical experience, the FM10 ACE would be an excellent way to ensure knowledge of how FM fits into the tech comm ecosystem.
Every ACE and ACI (certified instructor) can publish current credentials to you via Adobe's certified community.