Developing Online Docs

Subject: Developing Online Docs
From: Beryl Doane <BDoane -at- ENGPO -dot- MSMAILGW -dot- INTERMEC -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 22 Mar 1996 10:24:00 PST

I have been following the discussions of HTML vs. Acrobat vs.
FrameMaker. I appreciate the advice and opinions on the
strengths and weaknesses of each tool. Now, I want some
different information. Our company is looking into providing
online docs. The questions I have relate more to task analysis
and user expectations than to a specific tool.

"Everyone" wants our department to put our info online. How do
we define what is appropriate to put online and what is the best
way to present the info for the user? Various departments want
different info in different formats for different purposes.

For example, we have requests from our international division
to provide files for translation and from VARs to provide
source files for them to create customer-specific documentation.
Our printed materials use Word for Windows 6.0, softfonts,
postscript printers, and three graphic formats (bitmaps,
Adobe Illustrator, and HPGL). Our VARs and vendors do not
always have access to postscript printers or to our fonts,
yet they need to customize our technical data to fit turnkey
systems for the end users. They need source files, not .PDF
files. We currently supply them with Word files or .RFT files.

Technical support wants to put our manuals on the Web with HTML.
For optimal usability, we need to redesign and rewrite the
paper docs. It is also important for Tech Pubs to maintain
version and content control.

The field technicians are interested in having maintenance
manuals on CD-ROM or on the Web so that they do not have to
carry 40 pounds of docs to a customer site.

Marketing wants to reduce the cost of the manuals. Currently,
customers pay for most of our manuals. We often sell 100 hand-held
terminals to a site, but only a few manuals. Our manuals average
200 pages and come in three-ring binders (for easy updating).
In the marketing's mind, accessing the manual electronically
is cheaper than buying lots of manuals. HTML or Acrobat files
would work.

Now, the big question: How can our small department provide docs
that meet all these requirements and not increase our staff?
We do not have the resources to assign a print writer and an
online writer to the same product. We do not like the idea of
just porting the paper docs to HTML without rewriting and
redesigning for online.

Has anyone else faced these issues and found a workable solution?
Has anyone successfully said "we can't do that at this time"?

Beryl Doane
Senior Technical Writer
bdoane -at- intermec -dot- com

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