Re. Balancing online vs. printed

Subject: Re. Balancing online vs. printed
From: Geoff Hart <geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Thu, 28 Sep 1995 08:53:59 LCL

Mike Starr asked about an appropriate balance of
online vs. printed documentation. Here are a few

1. Getting started and tutorial info. should be on
paper, since online info. won't help those who
can't launch the software and start working with
it. (Yes, I've seen an installation guide that
runs only from diskette... not much use to a true
beginner, or someone with problems running the
installation software, which has happened to me
frequently.) If you can supplement this with an
online, interactive tutorial (e.g., Apple Guide),
do so, but only once the printed docs. get people
up and running.

2. Info. on the possible or recommended settings
for various fields within a dialog box, as well as
the meaning of the fields themselves, should be
online, available immediately with a single

3. Stuff that readers will want to browse with the
manual in one hand while the screen display glares
imperturbably down upon them should be printed; if
you put this sort of stuff online, make sure that
the viewer can move it aside so that the info.
doesn't obscure the display to which it refers;
similarly, the info. must remain visible ("always
on top") while the person types or mouses to
follow the instructions. If you can't meet these
criteria, put it on paper.

4. Online information is useless if users can't
find what they want to find. Thus, make it as
context sensitive as possible. Furthermore, hire a
good indexer to provide a good lookup list; with
printed info., you can always flip pages until you
see something familiar, but with online info.
you're limited to one very small screen at a time.
Search functions I find more annoying than helpful
in most cases; I generally have more luck with a
well-designed table of contents and topic index.

5. If your information depends on specific layout,
with specific line breaks, either rework the info.
or move it to paper: with adjustable windows,
users can ruin the display and make the info.
useless or at least more difficult to use. Fine
details may also work poorly online because of the
relatively low resolution of monitors.

This will guide you towards the optimum division
of info. for your purposes. I'm unaware of any
single rule of thumb that will tell you how much
to put online; it's pretty much a matter of
analysis of user needs. Hope this helps!

--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

Disclaimer: If I didn't commit it in print in one
of our reports, it don't represent FERIC's

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