Summary - Online & paper?

Subject: Summary - Online & paper?
From: Michael LaTorra <mikel -at- ACCUGRAPH -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 4 May 1994 15:42:56 MDT

WARNING -- This is a LOOOOOONG message!

Now that the thread "Online & paper?" has worn to a frazzle, it's time
for a summary. To begin, here is the salient portion of my original

> The central question is this: If you could have a comprehensive,
> hypertext help on your computer -- a help window that can
> remain open even while you are doing other things in the
> underlying application -- would you still want a paper manual?

The overwhelming majority of respondents want some kind of paper manual,
even if it's brief. Apparently, though online help is desirable, few
people believe it is currently sufficient.


Following are some of the more interesting comments on this topic:

Maybe not a comprehensive, detail-laden manual.
Perhaps a short-and-sweet, no more than 30-page
reference booklet.

Ray L. Rivera
Instructional Designer, AIG, Inc.
5th Floor, 80 Pine Street
NY, NY 10005


I am a linguist whose research focuses on discourse/communication (not a
technical writer). From my perspective, I detest manuals (my aversion
lies in the fact that they are badly written and even more badly indexed;
ultimately I find they are a waste of time).

When I'm working with any software, I like to work from my intuition first.
That usely works fine; if not, I'll go to help. Only as a last resort
will I consult a manual. So I would say that a help window such as you
suggest would make my paper manual obsolete.

Thanks for asking.

Best regards,

Elyse K. Abraham
Dept. of Linguistics
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta


I just went to our local STC presentation Wednesday. The subject was
On-line help. The presenters were from SDRC in Dayton, Ohio. They just
spent 3 years and @ 1 million dollars creating a gorgeous help system.
They anticipated that they would save 2 - 3 million dollars in printing
costs. They have discovered that the customers still want printed
manuals in addition to the spiffy help system.


Domain: maria -at- msd -dot- measurex -dot- com Maria Townsley Technical Publications
UUCP: ...uunet!mxmsd!maria Measurex Management Systems Division


Subject: Re: Online & paper?

Yup. This is idiosyncratic, like ediitng online vs. on paper, but I think that
online help does some things better than paper, but not all. And even on a big
screen, real estate issues still arise.

Fred Wersan
Quest Engineering Solutions
Documentation Services


. . . I also think it'll be a while before people are comfortable with
online-only information. (I'm a gung-ho online advocate, but I
feel weird if I don't get a manual to look at.) . . . .

Faith Weber
EA Systems Inc.
weber -at- easi -dot- enet -dot- dec -dot- com


In the discussion of on-line and/or paper documentation, I vote for
redundancy. . . .

Rionda Osman
rosman-j -at- ouray -dot- denver -dot- colorado -dot- edu


This is often treated as a marketing issue. Some companies
(and users) want a paper manual, for both rational (what if
the help system fails?) and irrational reasons (security
blanket, physical evidence of the product's perceived value,
and lots of screwier reasons. . . .

John Gough Atrium Technologies Austin TX john -at- atrium -dot- com


Or you could send one set of manuals plus PostScript files if the users
find they need more.

** That very idea is floating around my own company, as if two of the
much-heard refrains at our own site weren't "Who took the manual?"
and "Who's tying up the printer?"

Once someone does run your PostScript, of course, that presumably
means an 8.5-x-11 one-sided printout in a ring binder, not only
more arboricidal but also probably much clumsier to work with than
the hardcopy your company distributes. (Or if 8/5-x-11 in ring
binders is what your company distributes, then tsk tsk.)
. . .
(A side remark regarding retail software: When one of my Microsoft
manuals went astray, I called the company and asked to purchase a
replacement. "Sure, buy another legal copy of the software and
you'll get another manual," they sneered. Though its programs have
online help, Microsoft evidently still considers its manuals
valuable enough to be denied to suspected software pirates.)

Mark L. Levinson, SEE Technologies, Box 544, Herzlia, Israel
mark -at- dcl-see -dot- co -dot- il | voice +972-9-584684, ext. 230 | fax +972-9-543917


I really like a GOOD hypertext manual, but what if the system
isn't working correctly? Many users have a real knack for "falling
between the cracks" on the computer. Also, software errors (Come on,
admit it! Bugs are everywhere!) could leave the user stranded.

At the bare minimum, there should be some kind of mini-manual
that describes how to restore the hypertext manual, in the event
of a problem.

Steve Gray sagray -at- amp -dot- com
Corp Stds & Tech Pubs
AMP Incorporated, Harrisburg, PA (717) 780-4393~


Working with online help and hypertext over the years, it's easy to make
the argument for online doc. But the reality (at least in my case) is that I
prefer the paper manual.

I ask myself why my preferences fall out this way. The answers are hazy. I
- preference -- I've always used manuals & the switch is hard to make
- completeness -- online doc is so abbreviated that I'm never sure
I am finding everything I need to know.
- convenience -- looking up the answer in the book on my lap & then
trying it out on the screen just seems easier

Some of this could be laid at the door of age -- we are all more comfortable
with what we've been used to using over the years. I just find the paper
manual to be more usable.

BTW, I work on a NeXT workstation which provides some of the finest
online doc around. I'm using the online resource more often in this
environment -- but I'm keeping my manuals close at hand.

Karen Steele
President, Lone Star Chapter, STC

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

I work tech support at Lotus (yes, as in 1-2-3, Freelance, etcetera) The
company has been making a push towards more online doc and less printed
information. However, when answering the phones, I hear an overwhelming
desire for more & better printed doc.
Among the points in favor of printed doc:
- You can read it at your leisure while not at the computer.
- With online help, you often need to know what to look for in order to
find it. A catch 22.
- With different help/program windows, it can be difficult to read the
doc AND work in the program at the same times.

Online help may be context sensitive (if you're in draw, F1 will give you draw
help, if you're in database, you'll get database help, etcetera) but people
still prefer paper.

Elisabeth Riba <Elisabeth_Riba -dot- LOTUS -at- CRD -dot- LOTUS -dot- COM>

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000==

Despite our company's push--similar to many these days--to reduce printed
documentation (for a variety of reasons), I can't see it happening anytime
soon. Besides personal preference, I like best the way William Horton put
it in his book "Designing and Writing Online Documentation":

"Online documents...probably will not {replace paper documents}
until we have online documents as efficient as this one:

High-density, lap-top information display device. Nonvolatile
memory with zero power consumption. Able to display text and
graphics at 1250 dots per inch resolution in monochrome or up
to 32,000 colors on a 100 mega-pixel display. Features simple,
intuitive, direct-manipulation user-interface with both sequential
and random access mechanisms. Functional at temperatures from
-120 to +451 degrees F."

In other words: a book. (Anyone catch the significance of the second
temperature figure?) . . . .

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The significance of +451 degrees F. is that paper burns at this
temperature, which is why Ray Bradbury chose it for the title of his
novel about book-burning censorship _FAHRENHEIT 451_ -- M.L.]

. . . I think the key is to move certain elements online, elements such
as reference material and the stuff that often gets relegated to
appendixes. Other elements, such as user tasks, introductory material,
and orientational text, can be pruned and tightened to make existing
manuals more compact. One strategy: write for your Help first. Then
use the concise, well-written material as a basis for your book.

Chuck Martin
Information Developer, IBM
techwriter -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com
techwriter -at- aol -dot- com
74170,2462 -at- compuserve -dot- com

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

> - completeness -- online doc is so abbreviated that I'm never sure
> I am finding everything I need to know.

Considering on-line space limitations, you're probably _not_
finding it.

It would take a pretty fervent on-line advocate to claim that most
online doc wouldn't need to be supplemented with paper docs that can
act as a _reference_: to present every last detail.

Then there's the other difficulty that Karen alluded to: it's tough
with on-line doc to know how much else there is, and to get the sense
of context that you can easily get with paper. I think this problem
may be solved sooner or later, though.

Arthur Comings

Corte Madera, CA atc -at- CORTE-MADERA -dot- GEOQUEST -dot- SLB -dot- COM

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=====

I like to have paper manuals because I can put them on my lap or next
to my computer, so I don't have to interrupt my work or clutter my
screen space. As someone pointed out, if I had a 1200 or even 600
dpi screen, big enough to comfortably run software and display help
side by side, I might change my mind. Maybe.

--Dean Elzinga
elzinga -at- INFERENCE -dot- COM

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000==

I think most information will be online in the near future. When you get
a new application, the installation and basic troubleshooting info will
be hardcopy; everything else will be online help, reference, or tutorial
(these distinctions will probably blur). . . .

I think people still want hardcopy manuals because a) it's what they're
used to, and b) they've been put off by poor examples of online info.
IMHO, online info blows away manuals, as far as usefulness and usability go.
However, there are more good manuals out there than there are good online
info sets. So it's easy to think that manuals are more useful, inherently.
I don't think this is the case: I think, if the online information is
as carefully structured for online as the hardcopy is structured for paper,
then online is inherently more useful. . . .

Online vs. paper may be an argument already resolved in the market place.

Michael Priestley
mpriestley -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000==

> underlying application -- would you still want a paper manual?

Personally, no. I've been working a lot lately in Microsoft Word, Access, and
Excel and love being able to just click on the Help menu and find what I'm
looking for. I esp. like the cue cards in
Access. In my experience with Microsoft products, if I can't find it in
on-line help, I can't find it in the paper manual, either. I do find myself
printing some pages from on-line help that I pin up on the wall, but I'd
probably copy those pages from the manual anyway, so I'd just be killing more

*However,* I know a lot of people who don't feel this way (yet), and prefer
to have a hard-copy manual that they can look things up in. The other problem
is the quality of on-line help - as I mentioned, I like W4W, Access & Excel
help, and CorelDraw's, but the help for Ventura and Framemaker help is
cumbersome and not particularly helpful (IMHO) . . . .

Barb Philbrick burkbrick -at- AOL -dot- COM

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

If help is thorough, and includes everything that used to be in the paper
manuals, I'd get rid of everything on paper except paper tutorials, quick
reference cards, contextual overviews (anything that requires I read more
than five pages in a row).

--Jonathan Price
Communication Circle
918 La Senda, NW
Albuquerque, NM 87107

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000==

END OF SUMMARY FOR "Online & paper?"

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