Re: writing for html

Subject: Re: writing for html
From: Samantha Alper <salper -at- COL -dot- HP -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 19 Sep 1995 18:27:41 GMT

Tammy Hale (tammyh -at- fgm -dot- com) wrote:
: If you are writing a new on-line document (*not* modifying an existing
: document), how does your writing process differ from writing a paper
: document? How does your preparation change? How does your organization
: differ during the writing process?


I don't do much online writing in my current job, but I did quite a
bit as a student just last year and experimented with a number of styles.
I would say that in general, the research and preparation process are
similar but the organization is different.

On paper, you are mostly confined to a linear organization. Although
you can cross-reference other areas, the user still has to search for
the area, making extensive cross-referencing a pain. Also, the user
_expects_ the document to be organized like other paper documents -
deviating from this causes a lot of extra work for the user in trying
to follow his thread in a new manner. (Witness the unpopularity of the
old _Encyclopedia_Britannica_, or the trouble we have making sense of
a medieval text.)

With hypertext, accessing related information becomes easy (provided
the writer has done her work! :-). Instead of trying to guess how the
user is likely to access things, and organize my work to match this
primary method of access, when I put information into a web I chunk
the information by its sense and then provide links where a relation
exists. When the web is large enough to worry about the user getting
"lost in hyperspace", I provide some navigational context by indicating
different sorts of links with keywords, or by giving index pages. (Hint:
Give the user a way to return 'home' on every page, whether the web is
complex or not. It really seems to relieve stress.)

Mind you, I have been disagreed with by some well-known technical
communicators *grin*. I have been told it is better to stick to a
hierarchical structure, but I personally find a hypertext with only
up-down links to be frustratingly slow - it has all the same drawbacks
of a book. In some ways, it is a shame that the Web has so dominated
hypertext; there are some truly fine hypertext systems out there that
are more usable except that they limit you to one computer.

Just some thoughts, (translation: these are my opinions, not my employers)

salper -at- hpcsos -dot- col -dot- hp -dot- com

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