Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Business writing made easier

Some time ago, I blogged about productive ways to write. Some of those ideas were more suited to longer documents, where the overhead of learning something new can be amortized across many pages of text.

Often, though, I simply have to write a neat, understandable report for a client. If it has to look quite professional (and especially if it's to be printed), I still favor LaTeX as the best and easiest way to go. If it will have to be "repurposed" frequently for different needs or clients, DocBook has key strengths.

Often, though, I want something quicker and simpler. I once suggested parsewiki as a good tool, and it is, but I've since changed to a new, more powerful tool called asciidoc.

I've found I can write lightly formatted plain text using anything from Notepad to Emacs (my preference), and that text is easy to read. The asciidoc program can convert it, perhaps with the help of a few other tools, to varying XHTML formats, PDF, Windows or Java Help, or other formats.

For my personal use, I've been creating nicely formatted XHTML files I can view in a browser; for a client, I've been using cygwin's DocBook tools to convert the asciidoc output to PDF (although it would be easier on my Linux system). You may well need cygwin's Python packages to run asciidoc, anyway. This tool makes the creation of professionally formatted documents easy and straightforward, especially once you've done (and documented the process for) your first document.

Is there still a role for parsewiki? I think so, even if I choose asciidoc. It has the advantage that it will generate a formatted file pretty much no matter what I throw at it, while asciidoc can do more of what DocBook does while refusing to create formatted output if it can't understand what I write. So far, that's not been much of a problem, for asciidoc is pretty easy to use. parsewiki is also a bit simpler, mostly because it's also a bit more limited in power.

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