Re: Indexes and PDF Files

Subject: Re: Indexes and PDF Files
From: Joanne Sprott <afterwords -at- aweditorial -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Thu, 01 Mar 2007 12:14:05 -0600

Just a note from a professional indexer and editor looking at the shifting sands of information access in the high-tech world:

The full text search of PDF docs has its pros and cons. Like a search engine, it brings up every instance of a term mechanically, whether it's really relevant to your search or not (main discussion plus incidental mentions in individual procedures, etc.). It works, but it lacks any intelligence and doesn't weed out anything trivial for you. But if your docs are not going to the general public and everyone is familiar with the vocabulary of your technology, it may be cost/time effective to ignore indexing. The bookmarking method seems to have more merit, although humans do tend to find it more intuitive to scan an alphabetized list. The bookmarks are basically a redo of the TOC, right? A lot depends on the length and complexity of the doc itself as to whether a hierarchical organization of material will be easy to scan.

For print manuals, particularly for devices used by novices (personal computers, cell phones, etc.), indexes created by competent humans seem to be valuable from my experience so far. One user study says one thing, another another thing. One cell phone manufacturer looked us up specifically for training on term selection and index structuring for their user guide writers because their usability study said that over 50% of their users use the index to find stuff. As Mayur pointed out about synonyms and such, novice users also often come to a doc with a vocabulary that doesn't match that of the insiders who wrote it, so double-posting and cross-referencing in an index would be of value to them.

So, the value of human-created indexes seems to depend on the content and structure of your material, and most importantly, your audience. Unfortunately, the embedded indexing tools in most software used for technical writing are not made to help the writers create quality indexes in an efficient manner, so, with the short deadlines I've seen in the tech doc world, indexing ends up getting short shrift anyway. And so the technical support people get more calls. That seems to be the way it goes with consumer products anyway.

Joanne

AfterWords Editorial Services
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PRASANNA PRABHU wrote:

Hi Nick,

I have a strong suspicion that the sampling methodology used for your user surveys did not accomodate all kinds of users. Surveys can throw up highly skewed results depending on the sampling methodology, sample size, and questions posed in the survey questionnaire.
Also, the inclusion or exclusion of an index in the manual will depend on the content in the manual. If the various key words of the product/service appear in the topic headings, you would not need an index. Such manuals have very little text content in the pages; they have more illustrations and lists - something like an instructions manual...Your manuals may be of this type. Hence the results of your user survey show that indexes are not required. Regards,

Prasanna M. Prabhu
Technical Lead
Citec Engineering and Information India
+919886754228



----- Original Message ----
From: Jay Maechtlen <techwriter -at- covad -dot- net>
To: "Klasovsky, Nick" <nklasovsky -at- nordson -dot- com>
Cc: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Sent: Wednesday, 28 February, 2007 1:11:04 PM
Subject: Re: Indexes and PDF Files


Klasovsky, Nick wrote:
Nobody addressing this subject has mentioned PDF bookmarks.
We do not include indexes in our equipment manuals, only tables of
contents, because our user surveys have showed us that most of our users
don't know what an index is much less how to use it. Most don't even use
the table of contents, just page-flip until they find what they want.

We publish our printed equipment manuals on the internet as PDF files,
and we bookmark each and every one. We set the file to open with
bookmarks displayed. Our users use the bookmarks to jump to the topics
they need. The primary bookmarks are the topic headings, and by manually
adding bookmarks as needed we can make the bookmarks serve the same
purpose as indexes.
dang- someone with a clue!
very good...

Jay
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