Chapters in Online Help? and the demise of the printed manual? (longish)

Subject: Chapters in Online Help? and the demise of the printed manual? (longish)
From: "Glenn Maxey" <glenn -dot- maxey -at- voyanttech -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 13 Apr 2001 10:11:25 -0600

I'll state up front that I prefer printed manuals. It is bad enough when my
computer desktop with emulators for multiple operating systems is filled
with multiple applications, each with multiple Windows. But when I have to
clutter it up even more to find reference material... I would rather have a
book on my cubicle's desk space, propped open with the weight of my tape
dispenser or stapler and important pages marked with little green stickies.

I also know that most customers of my last several employers would have
preferred as a minimum printed manuals rather than only online help. Give
them both, and they're completely happy (as far as the content is

That said, I admit to having been one of the instigators in moving those
same employers into the realm of online help only. We nudged our customers
along and did our best to convince them that they didn't really need the
printed word from us; the electronic word sufficed. Even though we knew it
didn't and that it wasn't even our preference.

Certainly, the justification was cost. Turns out, the printing costs aren't
the big ones. The more you print, the cheaper the incremental rate. The big
cost is shipping, which gets worse when shipping internationally.


In order to kill a bunch of birds with one stone (and no trees in my
backyard), online help systems that I've been working on single-source from
FrameMaker and provide HTML (or HLP) online help along with PDF files. My
navigation in the online help provides a "this PDF" button on every topic
which opens the associated PDF file for that topic. (Unfortunately, it
doesn't [yet] open to the equivalent topic within the PDF file.
Bells-and-whistles for future versions.]

We know that if only online help is provided, users complain. They're going
to want to print out topics anyway. Printing from a browser or WinHelp
session can be a pain, particularly if you're printing more than one topic.
And you get ugly output as it reformats and repaginates at will.

Hence, giving users the associated PDF file right-then-and-there hopefully
will allow them to print out one or more pages laid out professionally as I
want them to see it. They kill only as many trees as they need. Those trees
are in their backyard and saves my company the costs of shipping our dead
backyard trees all over the world.

"Chapters" in online help? "Pages" in online help?

Users don't care. They want the information. The navigation has these little
open and closed "book" icons. What's the harm in sticking with this tried
and true terminology that computers strive to mimic with the "book" icons
and even the desktop?

*** I deliberately left chapter references in my generated help files.

*** I deliberately included the HTML export-equivalents of the FrameMaker
table of contents, index, and cross-references which make mention of
chapters AND PAGE NUMBERS!!! They are hyperlinked in the online help system
to the correct topic automatically.

My reasoning is that I know users are going to print things out. If I
deliberately leave the correctly hyperlinked chapter and page number
references in the online help, what I gain is an inexpensive accurate
cross-reference from the online help to pages printed from the PDF. The two
match. The users know that when it comes to the meat of the material, both
the online help and (PDF) printed versions are equivalent and complete.

So what if I'm an infidel for not using FM conditional text to swap out
"chapters" and "pages" for more appropriate online terminology? I want users
to know that there is a correlation to the printed page.

Maybe I'll get flamed for it and have to fix it in version 2 or 3. No
problem. Leaving them as is for version 1 saves me time and hassle; I have
enough to do just getting the whole system to work.

Still, I suspect that user's aren't going to care one way or another if they
see "chapter" or "page number" in their online help system, so long as the
link takes them to the correct location. They'll be happy for this
deliberate "lazy" hold-over to print, so long as I provide meaningful
information. Of the complaints that I anticipate regarding my documentation,
I don't expect this to be priority 1 if it is even mentioned at all.

My 2 cents.

Glenn Maxey
Voyant Technologies, Inc.
Tel. +1 303.223.5164
Fax. +1 303.223.5275
glenn -dot- maxey -at- voyanttech -dot- com


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