Re: Reference Data and Online Help

Subject: Re: Reference Data and Online Help
From: Steven Jong <SteveFJong -at- comcast -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 23 Jun 2004 08:49:48 -0400

Steven Oppenheimer <Steven -at- OppenheimerCommunications -dot- com> wants to know if anyone knows of "some study, or textbook, or something that passes for a source of authority in the field of technical documentation, which states that online help should only have procedural material, but not reference material."

Steven, your situation (product only has online information, online information is only for procedures, therefore no reference information online?) defies simple logic, and on that basis alone your manager is wrong. I suppose that's small comfort 8^)

In my personal opinion, one could make a better argument for the reverse--that reference information is better placed online, with printed documentation for procedures. (I've seen writers try to maintain online help for a huge system of highly complex forms, but also try to describe for each form the relationship with all the others. There was no clean way to describe tasks that required using sequences of forms, as almost every task did. Nervous breakdowns and other hilarity ensued...) If you happen to have an enormous quantity of fairly static reference information, it can be much cheaper to store online, where it can be accessed readily, searched rapidly, and printed out selectively. (Obviously, simple logic requires that if only printed documentation exists, then any reference information would have to be printed. Duh.)

That said, I don't think there's any such study, textbook, or authority that says any such thing, for the simple reason I give above. Nor is there anyone who says the opposite as a hard and fast rule. All in all, it depends--on the reading habits of users, on the quantities of information, and on the nature of the product.

-- Steve

Steven Jong ("Typo? What tpyo?")
SteveFJong -at- comcast -dot- net
617-374-9600x6442 [W] 978-692-3184 [H]
Home sweet home page:


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