RE: User Manual and Online Help

Subject: RE: User Manual and Online Help
From: Darren Barefoot <Darren -dot- Barefoot -at- capeclear -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 4 May 2001 17:07:20 +0100


You and Geoff make a point regarding the fact that online help and printed
manuals ought to be somewhat different. In an ideal world, the content
should be uniquely tuned to the medium. However, we don't work in an ideal
world, and if it's a question of putting the same content in both mediums,
or having one medium (or both) lacking because we didn't single-source and
didn't have the resources to devise complete content in both mediums
separately, I'll take the former. Duplicate content is better than having no
printed manual/online help system at all.

The company I worked with had multiple customer's who expressed Paul
Hanson's comments - "This client wants a print copy of our online help so he
can print it and give it to his staff so they can read it away from their

Furthermore, the example you cite about loading paper into a printer is
dubious. The problem lay in the fact that the text, regardless of where and
how many times it appeared, was poorly-written and unhelpful. If it was
accurate, complete and helpful, then it would've been moot that it appeared
the same way four times--it would have helped you wherever you would have
looked for it.

Speaking from this user's perspective, when I turn to the online help, it's
because I expect it to contain all of the content in the manual plus a
full-text search. This makes duplicating content far wiser than "useless".

> -----Original Message-----
> Speaking from a user's perspective: when I put down a manual
> and turn to
> online help (or some other different genre of documentation),
> it's because
> either I'm looking for a different type of information, or
> the information
> I found in the manual didn't help me. Either way, it doesn't
> help me to
> have the same material in both places.
> Speaking from a tech writer's perspective: this is why I
> regard "single
> sourcing" conversion tools (like the ones that automatically
> turn a WinHelp
> file into "printed documentation" or vice versa) as worse
> than useless.
> my two cents,
> Christine


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