Anybody know anything about Adobe Framemaker?

OK, here’s the deal. I got laid off last week. I was a Quality Engineer at a web-based start-up. A couple of months ago I had decided to try technical writing as a career - I have a lot of techie experience now, and I have a B.A. in English. I am so ridiculously qualified for the jobs I’m seeing, except for one thing - Framemaker. I need to learn it. The program costs $1500. The 3 day class to learn the program costs $900, and isn’t being offered again locally until March 19. All of the tutorial books I could find require you to own the program. There are a couple of short tutorials on the Adobe site that I will be doing over the next couple of days, but that isn’t going to take me far, so I’m pretty much screwed.

So here are my questions -

Does anybody have any experience with this program?

I’ve used Pagemaker previously, is the interface significantly different?

If you’ve got experience, do you think a 2-3 day class to learn this would be worth the cash outlay?

Does anybody have a copy they want to loan me for a week?

Any advice or opinions would be greatly appreciated.

Hi Slackergirl. I was a tech writer in the IT industry for about 9 years full-time. For the past 5 years I’ve done the same sort of thing as a freelance contractor. I hope I can be of some help. Caveat: I’m in London, so not all of my experience may transfer.

I don’t wish to start off on a negative note… but you may find there’s a lot more to it than having a degree in English. I have one too, but I have never considered it relevant to the job.

Just our of interest, is that English Language or Literature? Mine’s Lit.

May I ask why? In all my time as a tech scribe, I’ve only came across one assignment that was to be done in FrameMaker. Are you saying all the tech writing jobs require FrameMaker experience? I find this very hard to believe. Or are you saying those are the ones you want to get? In five years as a freelance contractor, the only tool any client has ever wanted me to use - even for fairly heavy-duty projects - has been Word. Here’s me, with WP or DTP experience up the wazoo, and they just want everything done in Word.

I have used Pagemaker extensively, ever since it was invented, and Framemaker just a little. Since both are made by Adobe, as you know, the interface is practically identical. FrameMaker simply has more extensive functionality for “long-document” features.

I strongly doubt it would be worth it.

Here’s the way I see it. First of all, in lieu of more info, I’m puzzled as to why you HAVE to use or learn this particular program.

Even if you do, it will be up to your employer to provide the software, so you don’t have to buy it yourself. So long as you know Pagemaker fairly well, you will be abe to get the hang of Framemaker fairly quickly. Just learn by doing and experimenting. If you hit a glitch, you can RTFM, the program Help, use the online Help, refer to relevant User Groups or post back here on the SDMB! I think you will be productive, and up to speed, quickly enough to satisfy your employer.

On a broader note, since you said any opinions were welcome, if you do want to try your hand at tech writing work, I would advise you to look carefully at the choice between getting a full-time job and doing it as a freelance contractor. I think the latter option is infinitely preferable, and not just because it’s more money.

Hi ianzin - thanks for responding -

Maybe it’s just a Silicon Valley thing, but Framemaker is listed as a required skill on almost all of the jobs I’ve seen. The placement agencies that specialize in tech writing all require it. It seems to have become the industry standard here. Of the ones that don’t list it, the salaries are significantly lower than what I earned in QA.

I agree that there is more to it than the degree (mine’s lit too) but in a world where I have to impress a recruiter instead of a hiring manager first, having it goes a long way towards getting me in the door.

Over the past few years I’ve done lots of projects incidental to my job - written training manuals and standards for service for AAA, grant proposals, test considerations for QA, internal documentation explaining how to use new features in products in development, and edited product help files. I’ve always enjoyed those projects, but never considered it as a career. Since I’d never met a tech writer before, I didn’t realize it was something I could do exclusively. The companies that I worked for never had to hire one, because they had me.

It’s good to know that it’s similar to pagemaker, I’m assuming that I’m intelligent enough to figure out what I need to from manuals and help menus. I have no intention of purchasing the package, but I’d like to find some way to look at it before I walk into an interview and sound like an idiot.

As far as permanent versus contract work is concerned, I am unfortunately stuck in the position of needing a permanent job to maintain my health insurance. I have something similar to diabetes, which requires expensive medications and the few carriers that will insure me privately charge upwards of $300 a month and won’t cover prescriptions. God Bless America. Until or unless I marry a nice boy who’ll keep me on his employer’s insurance, I can’t take the risk of losing mine.

Hi Slackergirl. I’m glad I could help a little, and your reply certainly cleared up a few things.

Here’s something you could try. Here in the UK, I wrote a nice email to Adobe (UK branch) saying I was evaluating whether to buy Page- or Frame-maker, and that given the significant outlay either way, I was realy looking for some sort of try-before-you-buy deal (all of this was true, incidentally). They very kindly wrote back offering me a free sampler disk which would allow me to evaluate both products. I guess there was some sort of auto expiry protection on it. Whatever, you could always try the same tack with Adobe at your end.

You could use a version of my story, which happened to be true at the time, or you could just come clean and explain that you are going to be a torch-bearer for Adobe prodcuts in your new job, but it would help both you AND THEM if you could have the 30 day sampler version to load on your home PC, and get the hang of it.

See what they say!

Interesting about the (good) job specs all stipulating Framemaker. In my experience, and perhaps yours as well, what people say on job specs and what you REALLY need to do the job are like Mercury and Pluto. It was so weird when I first started contracting. I was hoping that my versatility, my knowledge of so many different packages, would be a real asset. Hah! Microsoft Word every time. The thing is, people want something they themselves can tinker with or maintain without being locked into using my (immensely valuable!) services. He who pays the piper picks the tune.

Health insurance. Well, as you probably also know, we Brits can never understand head nor tail of your health system over there. But just a pointer for the future. If you go the self-employed freelance route, you normally set up your own private limited company, and you (as your company) could probably get health insurance even if you (as an individual) coud not. But don’t worry about this for now - it’s just an option to look into later on. There may be so many difference either side of the pond that I can’t offer any meaningful advice on this point anyway!

Oh, and if you DO get yourself nicely settled as a tech scribe, may I suggest you do yourself a couple of favours?

(1) Keep looking around for freelance work to do ‘on the side’. There is TONS of it. We live in an age where most people hate writing work, especially when whatever they write is going to be paraded in front of the world. You can clean up! And in this day and age, when job security is a mirage, it’s nice to build up your own little clump of ‘private’ clients.

(2) Teach yourself all you can about non-print non-paper documentation. Everything to do with web, java, on-line help, scripting etc. is your future, more fun and challenging than paper-based stuff, and carries a higher fee.

Good luck.

Hi, slackergirl.

I’m a technical editor and technical writer up in Seattle. I agree with your assessment that you need to learn FrameMaker.

If anybody wants you to create a user guide in Word, they’re crazy and you don’t want to work for them. Word is not equipped to handle long documents. You’ll spend more time fixing problems than creating the document. And PageMaker is good for smaller jobs, but not really so good for jobs over, say, 100 pages. I recommend that PageMaker be reserved for smaller or graphics-intensive documents, like, say, marketing brochures.

I work with FrameMaker daily, and I have to disagree with ianzin. The FrameMaker interface is actually substantially different from PageMaker’s interface. FrameMaker was purchased by Adobe, rather than originally developed by Adobe, and Adobe has yet to make FrameMaker’s interface match closely with other Adobe products. The similarity lies in the fact that all page-layout programs are similar. PageMaker is similar to FrameMaker is similar to QuarkXPress. But they’ve all got their little specific instructions and macros (or lack thereof).

Regarding the class you’ve checked into, yes, you can probably learn darn near all you need to know from that class. Ease of use will come with practice. But the class would at least get you familiar with the interface and the terminology. It’s a mighty expensive class, though. You could get your own copy of FrameMaker for that kind of money. Note that it’s FrameMaker + SGML that’s $1500; plain old FrameMaker is more like $700. In my experience, very few companies are using the SGML features; more companies are interested in standard Frame skills than in SGML skills. See for Adobe’s hype. You could skip the class and buy the product instead. Then you’d own it for if you do freelance work.

There’s also the option of a Dummies book: FrameMaker for Dummies is very handy, and much friendlier than the Frame user guide. (It’s the 5.5.6 version, but most of it applies to FrameMaker 6.0 too.)

Slightly off-topic from your original post, I wanted to recommend some tech-writing books that I’ve found very handy. These aren’t too expensive (compared to Frame!) and they may help you pick up some of the industry jargon. That jargon is very helpful come interview time. My recommendations are:

[ul][li]Managing Your Documentation Projects by JoAnn Hackos[/li][li]UnTechnical Writing by Michael Bremer[/li][li]Handbook of Technical Writing by Alred, Brusaw, and Oliu[/li][/ul]

See also these Web sites:
[ul][li], a FrameMaker user group (The mailing list is an excellent source of information and opinions; several Adobe staff members frequent the list.)[/li][li]InFrame magazine[/li][li]Tech writer list[/li][li]An overview of the tech-writing process[/li][li]Writergrrls, a list for women writers of all types (I’m assuming from your user name that you’re female.)[/li][/ul]

Feel free to e-mail me if you have more specific questions. Or, if you’re going to be in the Seattle area, lemme know and I’ll give you a quick FrameMaker tutorial.

Best wishes.


Wow, thanks guys. I feel much more educated today. I think the first thing I’m going to do tomorrow is follow ianzin’s advice and call Adobe to see about getting an evaluation copy of it. I’m also going to order a couple of those books jeyen recommended.

Jeyen, if you’re serious about giving me a walkthrough, I may be in Seattle in the next couple of weeks. My parents live on the northern coast of the Olympic peninsula and I was thinking of heading up there to decompress for a bit. If you have a few hours to spare I’d certainly buy you dinner and say fabulous things about you on the boards.

You betcha, slackergirl. Send me e-mail and we’ll coordinate.


Oh, the best way is take a computer class for it! Try one of those cheapo community colleges, youll get to learn it all for a real cheap price & not have to buy it.

Also, try slackergirl, you might find it there pretty cheap.

But the college or adult school is the best way.