Microsoft Word is a great piece of software. It allows users to quickly and easily write anything from a school report to business letter. The biggest advantage which Microsoft Word has is user-familiarity, it is a software which most of us have grown up with using it both at school and in the office. For many people it is still the natural choice when they need to write anything in a business environment. And for most purposes Microsoft Word is ideal, but there are some applications including writing product documentation for which it is not so well suited.
There are many reasons why Microsoft Word is not the right tool to help you write product documentation, here are just five of them.
1. Microsoft Word isn't specifically designed to write technical reports. If all you want to do is to write several pages of text then Microsoft Word is fine, but if you want to layout a document properly, and include graphics and links then it really isn't the easiest or most user-friendly piece of software available.
2. Microsoft Word doesn't come with any tools to help you write your documentation. With Microsoft Word you start with a blank page and write until you are finished. There is no way to ensure that you have covered every subject you need to write about, and no way to easily check that every link you include works correctly.
3. Microsoft Word only allows you to output your work in a very limited number of formats. You can produce your finished document as a text file, and perhaps as simplified HTML or PDF without too many problems. It's probable that you are going to need your finished product documentation in several other formats, and that means involving other tools in the process.
4. Microsoft Word documents are not easily changed. If your finished manual needs some changes in the future then you may find that you have to work through the document making changes manually. Any changes you make will have an effect on your document formatting in other places, leading to extra work. All of this adds to the time and effort required to produce a help manual.
5. Microsoft Word should not be used to write your product documentation because better tools are available and some of them can be obtained free of charge.
If you need to write a help manual then the best option is to use a Help Authoring Tool (HAT) to help you write quality manuals fast. HelpNDoc is one HAT which can be download for free. It includes all the word processing tools that Microsoft Word offers and has many additional features that make it easier to write help manuals. These include a media library that allows users to include or change graphics and videos in only a few clicks and a topic editor that makes it simple to check that every topic you write about has been covered adequately.
The best reason for using a HAT to write your manual is probably the ability help authoring tools have to output the manual in a wide range of formats. Having your documentation available in so many formats offers valuable flexibility to manual authors.