FrameMaker versus Word


The most important skills for a technical writer are writing, editing, and designing. However, these skills are not enough to make you a successful technical writer. You must also learn how to use the authoring tools.

The most used publishing tools are:

  • FrameMaker
  • Microsoft Word


FrameMaker is a desktop publishing and help authoring application created by Adobe Systems. Technical writers use it as a publishing tool to create large documents. Its latest version is 7.2.

FrameMaker advantages:

  • Useful for writing large and complex documents.
  • Creating a PDF is easy and the user can create bookmarks, links and other PDF functions.
  • It’s easier to change the layout of a document using master pages. A master page is created each time the user creates a new document. It is used to decide the layout of the document.
  • The text in the tables can be rotated.
  • You can print a rotated page with regular headers and footers, which means that the text can be in landscape mode, while the headers and footers are in portrait mode.
  • It has good color options. They include CMYK and Pantone.
  • It can handle a lot of graphics.
  • It has a number of cross-book features. One of them is to search and spell check the entire book. This function is useful for working with large books.
  • It has good flexibility in numbering options. It has built-in variables for chapter and volume numbering. It can also handle long numbered lists without errors.
  • Allows you to configure the numbering of steps or procedures.
  • Cross references can be easily added. You can also define formats for your cross references.
  • You can customize and save table formats.
  • The selection lists of character and paragraph formats are displayed as windows. They can be moved on the screen as needed.
  • FrameMaker supports conditional text.
  • It’s easier to create a single source documentation set in FrameMaker. Single sourcing allows you to use the same content for many documents. For example, if the user guide and the administrator guide have some themes in common, it is easier to share them than to keep separate copies.
  • It has Webworks Publisher, which is a powerful tool used to produce HTML, XML, or RTF output.

FrameMaker Disadvantages:

  • It has a steep learning curve for Word users.
  • FrameMaker for Windows has no macros.
  • Undo is limited to one action.
  • You cannot right-click and paste the selected text. You have to use the keyboard commands or use the Edit menu for it.
  • It has an unpredictable spell checker.
  • Drag and drop is not present in FrameMaker.
  • It does not have a grammar checker.
  • Inserting graphics is very cumbersome. You must first create an anchored frame, insert the graphic, and then manually resize it.
  • The Find command does not stop when it reaches the end of the document. Keep on continuing.
  • You have to manually format the table columns.

Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word is word processing software used to create documents. It is a powerful tool for creating professional looking documents.

Advantages of Microsoft Word:

  • There are many help authoring tools available, such as RoboHelp. Help Authoring Tools (HAT) are used to create online help manuals and are used by technical writers. They obtain source text from programs such as HTML and Word and generate results in formats such as Microsoft WinHelp or Adobe PDF.
  • It has good spell checker features such as spell check on the fly, removing the spell check dialog when selecting text, and informing the user when it reaches the end of the document.
  • You can use change tracking to review documents.
  • It has a good grammar checker.
  • It has the ability to “undo” many times.
  • It has macros, which can automate repetitive actions.
  • You can open two parts of a document in one window using Word.

Disadvantages of Microsoft Word:

  • Not stable for large documents. Gets slow when handling large volumes.
  • It is difficult to have a single source documentation set.
  • It does not run on Unix.
  • It doesn’t handle multi-document features like headers, footers, indexes, table of contents, cross references, etc. very well.


FrameMaker is best suited for large documents or documents with many files, such as books and user manuals. Word is best for smaller documents like reports, newsletters, letter writing, and memos. However, Word is much easier to use and has many advanced features.

Most of FrameMaker features can be implemented in Word, but FrameMaker handles large documents better and also has good cross-references and multi-file support.

Both Adobe FrameMaker and Microsoft Word are powerful professional authoring tools. They both have strengths and weaknesses. To decide which one is best for you, take a close look at the type of document you need to write.

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