RE: On-line vs. Print (WAS: Of myth and reality)

Subject: RE: On-line vs. Print (WAS: Of myth and reality)
From: "David Knopf" <david -at- knopf -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 29 Jul 2002 12:25:56 -0700

eric -dot- dunn -at- ca -dot- transport -dot- bombardier -dot- com wrote:

| On list, I often hear the recently repeated phrase "online help
| and printed documentation have entirely different requirements".
| Is this really true, or is it just a myth that serves as simple
| termination to discussion of studying more
| efficient ways of delivering information to the users?

I think in most cases this is a myth. For most software applications,
printed documentation and online Help are similar in many more ways than
they are different.

| While information is presented in a different format in
| online help and printed documentation, this is simply a
| difference in templates. I do not consider any
| point concerning colour, page size, fonts, or anything
| else touching templates as a validation of the phrase above.

I quite agree. To the extent that documents (printed and online) are
controlled by templates, most of the differences between print and
online versions can be handled automatically and do not validate the
notion of an inherent difference between the two.

| A point was made by someone else that in my view was missed
| or ignored in the general arguing over single-sourcing. To
| paraphrase, it seemed to conclude that
| the best printed manuals were those that had the best
| linking, cross-references, indexes, table of contents, and
| which could be read EITHER cover to cover or
| picked up to quickly resolve an issue at hand.
| The difference between such a manual and it's corresponding
| online help IMO is only a difference in presentation. The
| manual will invite the user to read the manual from cover to
| cover

... an invitation that will be declined more often than accepted.

| but allow them to easily skim past technical
| details to find the 'how-to' information. The online help
| file will do the opposite, present the user initially with
| a quick method to get the 'how-to' information
| but allow them to browse more indepth information if
| they so desire. Seems to me there is little difference
| between the two. While identifying and implementing
| the two different organizations may not be a trivial
| task, it seems the only difference between online and
| print is one of organization and presentation.

Yes. And if you are careful about you organize and structure the
information, many of the presentation details can be managed
automatically. This gets back to the difference between "writing a
manual" or "writing a Help system" and "writing a single source

| Looking at the two as entirely different entities is what
| I would believe to be the reason we have haphazard online
| help with little indepth information continuously referring
| back to printed documents and documents from which it is
| difficult to figure how to simply use the software to
| perform a task.

There was a perception in the early years of Help authoring that all
topics must be short, information content must be as minimal as
possible, and such niceties as conceptual information and graphics
should be omitted. I think that Help systems designed in this manner did
a lot to persuade users that Help is inherently not helpful.

| So to challenge what seems to be the popular (mis-)conception amongst
| many, what are these "entirely different requirements"?

There are some variations. Sean pointed out a few of them. But in
general, I disagree that the requirements are "entirely different."


David Knopf / Knopf Online / San Francisco, CA
mailto:david -at- knopf -dot- com /

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On-line vs. Print (WAS: Of myth and reality): From: eric . dunn

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