3 Functions in Adobe RoboHelp 11

Adobe RoboHelp is a help authoring and publishing tool that allows users to perform a wide range of functions. You can easily create responsive HTML5 outputs for a variety of screens with a single click, differentiate your content for various devices with multiscreen HTML5 publishing, and deliver content to smartphones, tablets, and eBook readers in EPUB 3, KF8, and MOBI formats. You can also generate and integrate help files with the following file formats:

  • Adobe PDF
  • FlashHelp
  • WebHelp
  • Adobe AIR
  • Adobe Captivate
  • Adobe Acrobat
  • Microsoft Compiled HTML Help
  • Microsoft WinHelp
  • Microsoft Word
  • Oracle Help for Java
  • JavaHelp
  • XML
  • ePub
  • KF8
  • MOBI

Another great feature is RoboHelp’s intuitive importing functionality. You can easily import files, and RoboHelp will automatically apply all the styles and formatting as accurately as possible. You can import files in the following format:

  • Adobe PDF
  • Adobe FrameMaker
  • Microsoft Word
  • DITA map files
  • XML files
  • Microsoft HTML Help projects

Finally, and my favourite feature of all, you can view your RoboHelp documents on-screen as they would appear on the output-source, whether that is on an iOS or Android smartphone, tablet, or even eBook readers like the Amazon Kindle.

Though RoboHelp is not one of the highlighted programs in the Adobe Suite, there is no doubt that it is, in fact, pretty sweet.


2 Thoughts on Grid Consistency

Though grids can often be considered boring, static designs, used properly, they can offer a variety of creative design options. More often than not, people generally prefer organized visual information. Newsletters, magazines, brochures, annual reports, and books commonly present visual elements like columns of text, headlines, photos, illustrations, and pull-quotes.

1. Consistency and Design

Grids allow the designer to build page-to-page consistency with these elements in these types of documents. Just as readers expect to find page numbers in the same location on each (or alternating) page, they often expect that sidebars, informational text, and other repeated elements in the same journal or magazine article have a consistent look, enhancing readability, even when they span several pages.

Dark boxes (images) and light boxes (text) formatted around the pages to create visual diversity and maintain readability.

Dark boxes (images) and light boxes (text) formatted around the pages to create visual diversity and maintain readability.

2. Grids in Marketing

Carefully conceived grid systems also allow the designer to introduce variations in design without compromising readability or consistency. Grids speed up the process of page layout by decreasing the time spent checking back to where elements are placed on previous pages.

In marketing, you might consider using your brand name or logo on varying color-coded brochures for different aspects of your business. Grids can provide unity and coherence to a collection of brochures, sales sheets, display ads, specification sheets, and other marketing elements.

Another example of when a common grid can unify a series of single but related pieces is in campaign work. Often, you might create a campaign or product-line, with similar layouts but different slogans or tag lines. A grid can provide a consistent guide for mixing graphics and text.

Using grids on all pages of any multi-page document can make the designer’s job or providing the consistency for readers much easier.

4 Guidelines for Effective Prose Writing

Duncan Koerber, a professor in the Professonal Writing program at York University, has time and time again effectively taught the core principles for successful writing. Koerber is a professor in the program for many of the primary courses that have significantly helped us improve our writing skills, including Introduction to Institutional Writing, The Ethics of Publicity, Practical Studies in Damage Control, and in second year, Prose, Style and Argument. While our first year courses were focused greatly on writing theory and studying writing as an element of society, I feel that Prose, Style and Argument was our first real experience writing at a University level. The course introduced many different themes and topics, such as

  • Media and Journalism
  • Scholarly Writing
  • Artistic Expression and Cultural Observations
  • Writer as an Activist
  • Writer as an Historian

While these themes discussed and analyzed through reading and writing exercises were helpful in understanding our own writing in different ways, there were many significant rules that in general improved our writing in all fields.

1. Make Assumptions: We often engage in debates, and do not have the time or ability to verify statements made by others, so we accept their boundaries of the argument. Arguments are not just about accuracy or correctness. They are about ensuring our credibility and learning new things by advancing dialogue, which in turn makes us seem fair and reasonable. By making assumptions about the validity of an argument being made, we are able to get passed the fallacies in someones argument and expose the cold hard facts. “It is often preferable to presuppose certain parts of an argument in order to impose their acceptance as a condition for the pursuit of the exchange.” – Marie Christine Leps

2. Utilize Parallelism: Parallelism is a writing tool. Creating parallel series can help an audience better understand and remember what is being said, and in fact is grammatically correct. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech  does not repeat “I have a dream” because he really wants the audience to know that he had a dream. It is because the parallel structure of his speech subtly and subliminally plants that phrase in the minds of the audience, and reinforces what comes after it. As for grammatical structure, the first of the following lists of “Things to Do” employs parallelism, and the second does not:

Things to Do (parallel):

  • Wake Up
  • Work Out
  • Make Breakfast
  • Wash the dishes

Things to Do (non-parallel):

  • Wake Up
  • Bicep and Back Workout
  • Make Breakfast
  • Dishes need to be washed

The former uses a verb based parallelism for each point on the list. The latter uses a random assortment of Verb, Singular Noun, Verb, Plural Noun, and is thus grammatically incorrect (and annoying to read).

3. Eliminate Dead Verbs: Before this course, I’d never heard the term “dead verb.” A dead verb is a verb that essentially does nothing for the context of the sentence or paragraph, and produces no visual imagery for the reader. For example, To Be is a dead verb, and is ultimately the hardest verb to remove from your writing. In the sentence “my father is making us dinner”, we see that “is” and “making” are dead verbs, and the sentence must be restructured to eliminate it, as in, “my father cooked dinner for us.” The verb “cooked” provides the reader with a visual interpretation of who is performing the verb, and that they are cooking. At this point we can replace “dinner” with “pasta” or “beans” or whatever provides a better image for the reader. Another advantage to removing these dead verbs is reducing the amount of words we use. When we have a word count limit, every word counts, and changing “is making” to “cooked” has now effectively livened up our writing and still eliminated one word.

4. Draft and Revise Your Work: Writing a piece of poetry is never as simple as writing words on a piece of paper and sending it to a publisher. A single piece of poetry is never perfect; it goes through days, weeks, months, and years of revision and editing, and sometimes is all together thrown away after so much work is put into it. A novel is usually difficult to write with no planning as to characters or plot, just by spontaneously writing what comes to mind. So, who is to say that prose, or essays, or any piece of writing is perfect on the first try? Obviously, we all know that there are deadlines that have us sweating to finish and submit something on time, but that just mean extra preparation should be (or should have been) taken to ensure that there is time for editing and revision. Creating a draft copy of a piece of writing is one of the most important steps in completing it. First drafts should be spontaneous pieces of writing that have only glimpses of what will appear in the final text. This often means that a first draft will be very short, and riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, but it is an important step in first communicating your thoughts on a topic before consulting facts or external sources of information. This also means creating or planning a pre-writing outline, plotting your introduction and paragraphs and points of discussion or argument.

These rules will help any writer to form strong, coherent sentences and valid arguments, and not only improve their general writing skills but (dare I say) increase their chances at better grades in academic writing exercises, as they have for myself and many of my peers. Prose, Style and Argument was more than just a mandatory required course in the Professional Writing program. It was a valuable learning experience that has supplied me with writing skills I still consciously think about when writing today.

3 Theories of Writing and Language

Theories of Writing was a first year course in the Professional Writing program that explained a lot about how our system of academics works, and in many ways, how it is not working in many ways. The course was not only about the theories of writing, but the theories of language, and how it has influenced our personal relationships, and the relationships between ourselves and other language users (especially those who use different languages than our own).

Some of the main themes we discussed throughout lectures were,

  • Understanding how our language is organized in the academy
  • Theories related to the phases involved in the process of writing
  • Metacognition: “knowing about knowing” or “thinking about thinking.” Overviewing your thinking process in writing to see what is most effective
  • Discourse communities

The most valuable lesson in this course involved the theory of three theories of writing and language, which are essentially the three possible perspectives one could take in regards to our social constructs and academic teachings.

1. Prescriptivist ViewThis is the theory that mostly everyone holds, and dominates most schools, teachings, and social constructions. It argues for a single system of language based on an authorized collection of definitions and rules. Everyone can and should learn this normative system, however flawed it may be. The theory goes back to the ancient Greeks, and is still influential today. The Prescriptivists took power in the 17th Century when Britain was a world power. Language became about disciplinary courses of learning (memorizing and repeating the rules of language). Changing the language meant changing the student and citizen. This is the theory that suggests every person should be taught in the exact same way despite differences in learning styles and upbringing.

2. Psycholinguistic ViewDeveloped in the 1960’s, the Psycholinguistic viewpoint states that language is an instrument for individual human use. The individual vernacular language that all humans learn is seen as the source of all language. The theory was produced from Descriptive Linguistics, and emphasizes spoken language. The Psycholinguistic theory is heavily rooted in Noam Chomsky’s (linguist and philosopher) theory of Generative Linguistics, which explains that there is a particular combination of words that can be predicted to form perfectly grammatical sentences, and that there is one system to be taught that influences all of human language. The difference is that this theory in interested in the intrapersonal (individual) viewpoint of language, rather than the language dictating the individual’s viewpoint.

3. Sociolinguistic ViewDeveloped in the 1970’s, the Sociolinguistic view is the study of language in its social setting as part of a larger communicative system. This teaches us that language cannot be separated from context. Language acts are social processes that establish, structure, and maintain social relationships. By learning a language you are learning the social and behavioural standards of the lives of the people using that language. Sociolinguistics are interested in the interpersonal (outside of the individual, within the community). This essentially means that every individual is influenced by their community and surroundings, and therefore cannot be taught in the same way that someone from a different community is taught.

These three theories define how our education system works, and what we can do to help ourselves essentially survive schooling and transition into the corporate world we live in. It seemed a little far-fetched that a University course could teach us that our education system has flaws, and that there are better ways to teach and learn (including not having examinations where everyone is graded in the exact same way), especially considering that the course had a midterm and final exam. That is, however, the world we live in, and Theories of Writing helped make it clear that this does not mean our individual expression should be closeted.

4 Philosophers in Rhetoric

The first course I ever attended in my undergraduate degree was Rhetoric: An Historical Introduction. In simple terms, the course was based around the philosophies surrounding rhetoric, and how speaking and writing has evolved over time into what it is today. This included,

I would say however that the primary principles of the course revolved around four main philosophers and rhetoricians.

  1. IsocratesTaught that the mind needs to be exercised in the same way our body does. In order to learn, a student needs a natural aptitude, knowledge and training, and applied practice. Isocrates founded the first ever School of Rhetoric around 392BC. Prior to this, teachers would travel and give lectures for anyone who would listen. Isocrates school brought students to Athens to study rhetoric.

  2. AristotleAround 335-323BC, Aristotle founded his own school in Lyceum, Athens. His teachings situated rhetoric as a discipline with relationships to what it discusses, method, and its ultimate goals (ethics). He emphasized how his work differed from handbook rhetoric, and taught about his “main types of knowledge” including Episteme (scientific knowledge), Phronesis (practical wisdom), and Techne (skill).

  3. PlatoThe founder of the Platonic Academy where Aristotle studied for twenty-three years before opening his own school, Plato helped to created what we know today as the basis for modern science and philosophy. Plato was known for writing his philosophies in dialogues form, most famously in his dialogue Gorgias, where Plato’s mentor Socrates sought the true definition for rhetoric.

  4. CiceroCicero was a philosopher long after the days of Plato, Aristotle, and Isocrates, the only of the three from Roman descent. Cicero wrote widely on philosophy, politics, and oratory, and his contributions and influence on the Latin language form the basis for prose in Latin and nearly all European languages. Cicero was an accomplished orator, lawyer, and politician, and appeared as a character in William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar.

It seemed appropriate that a course about ancient Greek and Roman philosophers had ancient rules involving the exclusive use of pen and paper to take notes (the professor made it very clear no laptops were allowed, at the expense of one student cursing her out and never returning), but Rhetoric was truly the framework for the Professional Writing program. Every lesson, especially the modes of persuasion (ethos, pathos, and logos) and the main philosophies by these great men throughout history came up time and time again in nearly every course following.

5 Techniques For Digesting Technical Information

Digesting Technical Information was a third year course in the Professional Writing program. The course combined interactive lectures and discussions and cooperative exercises in order to teach the fundamental techniques required in understanding field-specific information, and translating this information into coherent language. At times the course was unorganized, and the professor ironically was hard to communicate with, many of the skills learned were helpful for a Professional Writing career.

1. Know Your Audience: Self-explanatory, but examining and writing from the perspective of your audience or readers is the best way to understand exactly what they need to know versus what you want them to know. Getting in the heads of your audience is paramount to producing successful writing.

2. Edit Thoroughly: For many reasons falsified information or simply delivering content incorrectly, whether intentional or unintentional, can be cause for serious concern. Writers must be precise and focused while writing, and thorough while editing. Where a passage may seem clear, without proper editing and organization it may be confusing for readers. Readers trust the experts to supply truthful and accurate information. Inaccurate information may lead to legal matters of fraudulent information and further discredit any accurate information the business has released. In 2006, an incorrectly placed comma cost Rogers Communications over $2 Million in a legally binding contract.* Clearly, every character counts, and editing the content is just as important as writing it.

3. Learn and Use Jargon: Jargon is language specific to a particular activity, profession, group, or event. It condenses and simplifies language for those familiar with it, but often needs to be translated for the general public. For example, the About Us section of a Biomechanics organization would be heavy with field specific language that might push away those who do not understand it. Using some of this language can be useful, but learning the jargon and translating it for the general public can be beneficial for the reader, writer, and organization.

4. Read and Rewrite Content: Our writing can often be unintentionally filled with unclear phrasing and bias or opinionated information that goes unseen on the first draft. Reading back and rewriting content is an important step in the editing process that helps us to clarify the message, remove bias, organize out information and meet the reader’s needs. One concept can often be understood in many different ways. By considering the audience when reading and rewriting, the content because easier to clarify.

5. Understand the Types of Messages: There are many different core genres to write for including government, legal, regulatory, institutional, scientific, medical, military, corporate, and educational. Within each of these genres are several different types of messages that can be portrayed. Understanding the differences between these message types can, once again, help clarify our writing. The message types are,

  • Positive and Negative
  • Cause and Effect
  • Problem and Solution
  • Question and Answer
  • Inhibitory and Exhortatory

While the course title was Digesting Technical Information, many of the topics discussed involved producing coherent writing, and learning how to adjust and adapt our writing towards changing demographics and audiences. Though the professor seemed more concerned with teaching us the tools we needed to start a business exactly like his own, he did teach us that writing clearly can help preserve our validity and reputation as writers.

Professor’s Website – Publishing Smarter

Rogers Communications Article

3 Important Notes About Grammar and Proofreading

Arguably the hardest course I’ve taken in University, my second year course Grammar and Proofreading taught me many incredibly useful lessons that I use on a daily basis in my writing. Together, with our “Fundamentals of Editing” course I’ve developed the necessary skills required to write professionally, which after all, is the primary goal (and hopefully something we would learn) in the Professional Writing program. Some of the key learnings in the course were,

  • Verb Tenses
  • Passive Constructions
  • Modal and Pseudo Auxiliary uses of Verbs
  • Non-Restrictive and Non-Restrictive Relative Clauses
  • Relative and Restrictive Clauses
  • Sentence Modifiers

While these key learnings were important definitions that helped with our grammar skills, there were many lessons that taught us rules that have helped with our overall sentence construction and general writing skills:

1. Passive Voice: We learned to identify problems by examining words individually, and as a full body structure. Many of the lessons in class revolved around identifying the key elements in Passive Voice, which I learned was more often how I wrote, as opposed to the grammatically correct Active VoicePassive Voice is defined by the subject of the verb receiving the action denoted by the verb, rather than the subject performing the action. For instance, that very sentence was written in passive voice, as it grammatically should have been written, “the subject of the verb receiving the action denoted by the verb defines Passive Voice.”

2. Social Abbreviation:  One of the key philosophies discussed in lecture was the reasoning behind (what the professor referred to as) Social Abbreviation. This is the concept behind abbreviating social language in order to conserve space and time when writing/typing. Twitter, for example, allows only 140 characters when posting a “tweet.” The relevance of this lesson towards grammar and proofreading is that these abbreviations have no apparent affect on grammatical structure or proofreading techniques, and that they are the future of our English language. “Brb” is to “Be right back” as “Rhino” is to “Rhinoceros.”

3. Reed-Kellogg Diagram: The Reed-Kellogg Diagram is the most discernible way to identify the pieces of a sentence for what they truly are. The system explains that every sentence follows the same structure; a subject on the left, and predicate on the right. The diagram separates the two with a vertical bar descending below the baseline. The predicate must contain a verb, and any modifiers to the three branch off diagonally (ex. adverbs, pronouns, etc.). By dissecting sentences in this way, we are able to understand the grammatical structure, and better evaluate the nature of individual words, the validity of the sentence, and its syntactical structure.

Lessons often became confusing, as the professor would teach us the proper uses of the past, present, and future of a verb by using a noun (his favourite was of course I apple – you appled – he will apple) rather than simply helping us to understand by using grammatically correct language. This did however teach us to be more aware of verb endings, as the verb itself is not the indicator of the tense, but the context of the sentence it pertains to. Getting passed the initial shock of how terrible at writing even a self-proclaimed “good” writer can be, the course was essential to the Professional Writing program, and eventually even fun.