Book Review: Learning Author-it Version 5

I could save you a bit of time by just saying: If you want to learn how to use the Author-it authoring tool, then get this book. It’s really just that simple, but if you want the back story….

Learning Author-it, written by online help guru Char James-Tanny, is a recent release by XML Press. Char was an inaugural Author-it certified consultant, and her experience with the software goes back a decade. The book restricts itself to Author-it and Author-it Administrator, but within that domain it is comprehensive. In fact, it serves these two masters quite well. The meat of the book is devoted to Author-it. Wrapped around that are bookend chapters covering Author-it Administrator. Someone interested in learning just Author-it can easily ignore the Administrator parts.

The content grows out of training materials originally developed in 2002, and that ancestry shows. The heart of the book is over 150 tasks covering everything from creating and maintaining a library to the gritty details of setting the User Options. The material flows like a good training course. It moves steadily from subject area to subject area, starting with the basics and introducing more advanced material at a well-organized pace. Each subject area contains overview material, multiple tasks, and lots of screen shots. I don’t know Author-it personally, but I have trouble imagining an area of the software not covered in this book’s 365 pages. It could easily serve as self-paced training.

From another slant, the book also stands as an excellent reference to the software. Say I want to do something pretty esoteric in Author-it, like changing the icons used for navigation in the HTML page output. Consulting the index, I easily find that topic on page 354 as one of the several areas covered in the section on “Customizing the HTML Outputs.” There are almost fifty such sections in the book, the vast majority of them containing multiple tasks. If you need to quickly find out how to do something in Author-it, then here’s your resource.

High level areas covered include:

  • Creating and Setting Up a Library with Author-it Administrator
  • Understanding the Authoring Environment
  • Creating Content
  • Reusing Topic Content
  • Viewing, Finding, and Organizing Objects
  • Publishing the Output
  • Customizing Objects for Different Outputs
  • Maintaining the Library

Note that the illustrations and such in the book are based on Windows 7, so be forewarned if you’re still clinging to XP. A classy touch at the end gives editor Rhonda Bracey and indexer Sue Heim a shout out for their contributions to an excellent book.

  • Paperback: 396 pages
    Publisher: XML Press (May 9, 2011)
    Language: English
    ISBN-10: 0982219180
    ISBN-13: 978-0982219188

 

Chris Goolsby

Chris Goolsby first posted on TECHWR-L in the early 90s soon after he turned from creative to technical writing. That switch was brought on by the pressing need to consistently put food on the table. He started working with hypertext before the internet was invented, was a Usenet early adopter, and has watched the world wide web build up strand by strand over the course of his career. He’s used markup languages from the very beginning, starting with nroof/troof on Unix work stations and currently working in DITA. Chris works for PTC Arbortext in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is also an active member of the OASIS DITA technical committees. Chris lives with his wife, children, dog, and cat in a 100 year old house. He’s still working on that novel in his spare time.

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