Re: Online Documentation. New! Improved!

Subject: Re: Online Documentation. New! Improved!
From: Len Olszewski <saslpo -at- UNX -dot- SAS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 17 Oct 1996 16:36:39 GMT

In article <9610171556 -dot- AA15611 -at- plamondon -dot- com>, Robert Plamondon
<robert -at- plamondon -dot- com> writes:

[...]

|> Sure, you can do really cool on-line documentation. But it's a
|> fallacy that on-line documentation is all that different from any
|> other kind of documentation. It has the same goals, the same
|> subject matter, and the same readers as a paper manual would have.
|>
|> Many people, though, have fallen for the line that on-line documentation
|> is somehow very different -- that the fact that it is on-line changes
|> the nature of the information that people need to use the product.

[...]

Good points, all of these.

Of course online documentation is similar to hardcopy documentation
along several important dimensions. To my mind, they differ only in that
the organization of the same content has to suit each medium. A book is,
by nature, linear. It lends itself to complete coverage of a topic.
Online documentation isn't linear at all. It lends itself to user
exploration of related topics.

Can a writer include the same information in both media? Sure; I'll
stick out m'neck and suggest that you *should* include the same
substantive material if you are producing both media in support of a
product. However, there's no good reason *not* to exploit *each*
medium's distinctive advantages by including features or material best
suited to one or the other. Big tables are fine in books, but a
nightmare online. Drilling down through successive choices are a dandy
online feature, but a page-flipping disaster in a book.

There are differentiating factors in organizational options at play
here. However, there are strong similarities in content, audience, and
goals, as Robert points out. And I agree that some online documents bite
seaweed. So do some books. Hence the ongoing demand for good technical
writers. ;-)

Cordially,
--
Len Olszewski My opinions; you go get your own.
saslpo -at- unx -dot- sas -dot- com


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