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How Do I Choose a Desktop Publishing or Software Book?

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Question: How Do I Choose a Desktop Publishing or Software Book?
These days most books about desktop publishing are really books about using a particular desktop publishing software application. To learn how to create attractive documents, look for books on graphic design.
Some books are tool or task-oriented. Other books are project-oriented. There are primers that get you up and running quickly and "everything you could possibly ever want to know" reference books that cover desktop publishing, design, business, or the software in-depth. The right type of book can enhance your knowledge and skills. The wrong type of book is a waste of money and could leave you frustrated about learning a new skill or a new software program.
Answer: Choosing the right book out of dozens comes down to two things: your current skill level or what you need to know and how you learn best.

Table of Contents, Index, Number of Pages

First, consider these three quick tips:

  1. A good way to get the feel of a book is to read the table of contents, then read the index, if it has one, and finally read the first and last paragraphs of each chapter.

  2. If a table of contents lists names of programs or components instead of tasks, the manual isn't user-friendly.

  3. Bigger isn't necessarily better. If you feel intimidated by the size of a book, you'll probably not read it. Start with smaller, more basic books to become familiar with a concept. Later, you can learn the nitty-gritty details and more technical aspects found in more comprehensive manuals.

Your Skill Level

Consider your skill level as a computer user and your experience with previous and current versions of the software when choosing a computer software book. Your current skill level also applies when choosing a book on specific desktop publishing tasks or on the business side of things.
  • Computer beginner? Books that not only describe how to use the software but cover installation and setup in detail and go into the basics of what is a menu or how to use shortcuts are good choices.

  • Computer literate? Skip the most basic tutorials and go for books that concentrate specifically on how to use the software tools.

  • Familiar with the software? If familiar with earlier versions or similar software you can probably move on to an intermediate or advanced level or what's new in... book that lets you concentrate on the newest tools and enhancements.

  • Never used earlier versions? You may need to start with a beginner level tutorial that covers all aspects of the software.

  • Major upgrade? Is it a major upgrade that you've never used before? Beginner and intermediate level books are probably your best choice.

  • Want to be a power user? Are you already using the software but want to learn more about its special or advanced features? An advanced level book or one that skips the detailed discussion of basic tools and goes right into how to create special effects may be what you need.

Reference Book vs. Tutorial Book

When purchasing a book on specific software or on skills such as prepress or scanning, casual users who may not use the program or skill frequently should probably have a good overall reference book to help them refresh their skills. Power users or those that use the software or skill regularly for work or pleasure may want a book that gives entire projects or describes more creative ways to use the software or hardware or books full of power tips and tricks.
  • If you learn best by doing tutorials and working from start to finish then a book in tutorial format with lessons or complete projects and perhaps a companion CD is a good choice.

  • If you just want a quick primer or need to look up how-to use this tool as the need arises, then look for a book that gives a good overview of the primary tools and that doesn't rely on you reading the book cover to cover in order to learn how to use a feature or accomplish a specific task.

  • If you know how to use the software program but want to learn how to apply it to your day-to-day work or be more creative in a certain area, look for books that cover real world design issues or specific types of projects such as creating newsletters with XXX or Web Graphics with XXX.

Look at the Book

Whether you are browsing a brick & mortar bookstore or an online vendor, take a look at the book. When online you'll have to rely on written descriptions but you can gain insight into the book from official publisher descriptions, reader reviews, and table of contents listings and excerpts.
  • If you've been happy with other books by the same author, chances are good this book will work for you as well.

  • If you've been happy with titles from a certain publisher or books in the "Dummies" or "Classroom in a Book" series then look for new titles covering your current software.

  • Are you a picture person? Look for generous illustrations.

  • Bigger books are not necessarily better unless you want the most comprehensive references available. Small books simply can't be as thorough but they are generally less overwhelming for beginners.

  • Skim the table of contents to determine if the book covers the tasks most important to you. Think of an item or two you might want to look up then see if you can find it through the index. A good index is invaluable, especially with the larger reference books.

  • Don't just look at how highly readers rate a book. See why they like it. Reviews that give specifics about what the reader did or didn't like are the best. Sometimes what one reader finds lacking is not what you need or what they rave about isn't what you're looking for either.

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