Re: On-Line Vs. Print, Single-Sourcing, and how to ignore the obvious

Subject: Re: On-Line Vs. Print, Single-Sourcing, and how to ignore the obvious
From: dmbrown -at- brown-inc -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 02 Aug 2002 08:07:51 -0700


Rebecca Downey wrote:
>
> I would like to know *what* are the differences between On-Line and print
> documentation in your humble opinion.

Umm...one's online and the other's printed?

Seriously, the concensus is that people generally find on-screen text tougher on the eyes, and that they tend to stop reading long tracts of text on the screen sooner than they'd stop reading the same long tracts of text on paper. The effect of that concensus has been that most of us assume it's good to keep on-screen text short and to the point; if we have to get verbose, we tend do it on paper...or in PDF, that happy marriage of convenient access, hypertext benefits, full-text search, control over print quality, and low production costs.

An exact place where "short" and "long" are delineated is impossible to determine universally. That's why you see all the nonsense about The Magic Number 7 and similar Stone-Carved Truths of Documentation.

>
> So far you've only mentioned one set:
> > Personally, I prefer to get the "Here is exactly
> > how to do this" kind of information from on-line
> > help. I look to a printed manual for theoretical and
> > conceptual background.
>
> Are there others in your opinion?

At least one...on this point, anyway. :)

>
> Should information overlap between the two (print and on-line) when written
> for the same product?

Well, golly. This has been answered to death, too.

Your users may expect the help to contain lots of conceptual topics, a little bit of background information for a few of the more difficult UI elements, or nothing but field descriptions and short procedures. You may need to describe certain procedures (like installation instructions) in print; but since everything else is online, yo uinclude the installation instructions there, too. Your software may be intended for use on multiple platforms where plain text is the only common denominator, so you keep the docs short and include both a text file and a nicely laid out paper copy.

There's almost certainly *some* overlap in content. The question is "How much?"

The answer, as usual, is "It depends." Figuring out what's right for each situation is part of what separates tech writers from desktop publishers.

--David

P.S. Hi, Andrew!

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References:
RE: On-Line Vs. Print, Single-Sourcing, and how to ignore the obvious: From: Rebecca Downey

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