Re: On-line help and manuals

Subject: Re: On-line help and manuals
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher -at- STARBASECORP -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 10 Feb 1995 13:42:47 -0800

From Dan Glovier:

> In a perfect world, the on-line help document and the manual document would be
> separate beasts. However, due to time, staff size (2), and all of the other
> regular inhibitors, we are trying to determine whether or not these documents
> can be (or should be) one in the same. Whatcha think?

Single-sourcing paper and online docs is a pipe dream. One or
the other is bound to turn out badly. Mainly because the type
of information that you present and the way in which you present
it should differ greatly from one medium to the other. You reader's
expectations differ greatly from one medium tot he other.

When a person picks up that book, to scan the toc, to look up
something in the index, to flip through the pages, that person
is aware of the continuity and flow of the book's topics. By
flipping back and forth, holding a finger here, a thumb here,
that person can locate bits and pieces of information, read
a snitch here, a snatch there... Usually, flipping thru a book
is a leisurly process.

When that same person accesses online help, usually by hitting
a special key or clicking a button, there is no sense of
continuity, there is no leisurly flipping through pages...
There is only a sense of urgency. Usually "what the h*** is
the problem" or "what kind of information am I supposed to
put here" or "why isn't this doing what I want it to do"
Writing "information on demand" material is worlds away from
the kind of material and the kind of writing style we employ
in books.

Nothing increases my office mates' vocabulary half as much
as my having to access a poorly converted online "manual"
because the kind of information I'm looking for is *never*
there.

Sue Gallagher
StarBase Corp, Irvine CA
sgallagher -at- starbasecorp -dot- com


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