Re: Online vs. Paper

Subject: Re: Online vs. Paper
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher -at- EXPERSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 7 Feb 1997 12:23:02 -0800

Doug Bailey answered someone, I don't know who:
>>I found out today that the head of development wants to go with full
>>online
>>documentation (probably a combination of online manuals and online help
>>within the application. No paper!! I do not agree with this decision
>and
>===========
>
>In my opinion, the only documentation that should always
>remain on paper is that content involving procedures
>which cannot be performed with the computer running.
>Examples of this are:
[snip]

And installation instructions, don't forget that. Even if the
online docs are uncompressed, nobody will realize that they are
accessible, nobody will look for them, until after the product
is installed.

Also, users are impatient with involved procedures online. They're
just too difficult to follow. So tutorial info should probably be
on paper unless you have the resources, time, and money to create
a proper wizard or cbt.


>If we have to drag Joe Six-Pack kicking and screaming
>into the Electronic Age, then so be it.
>

That's a real quick way to loose market share, IMO. More than one
user has abandoned a perfectly good piece of software because it
just wasn't usable.

You'll never get some users comfortable with online docs. Even users
who will readily look stuff up in online help will often find it
difficult to read complicated conceptual information or follow
extensive procedures online. Ship electronic docs and the first
thing your users will ask is, "how do I print them?" To properly
service your user community, you need to be prepared to answer that
question.

While I'm a true fan of using Winhelp for online docs because of its
familiar interface and ease of use, converting documents to fully-
functioning hypertext has its drawbacks. The information can't be
printed conveniently, and once it is, those handy-dandy hyperlinks
don't work anymore. The user is left with a big pile of paper and
none of the standard information access tools -- toc and index.
So, while a true hyperlink document is a wonderful addition to a
paper manual, it just doesn't replace a paper manual very well.

Look for a tool that will allow the user the greatest number of
options. Maybe that means Acrobat or Frame Viewer or Word Viewer,
I don't know your audience or your delivery platforms or your
existing tools. Provide information access that works reasonably
well in both electronic and static environments (i.e., online and
onpaper), or maybe provide *additional* navigational tools for
the printed version.

There may come a day when users readily accept an online-only
documentation strategy. But that day isn't here yet. It'll be
a while in coming. And it will probably arrive faster if we
coax our users into acceptance rather than bullying them.


Susan W. Gallagher Manager, Technical Publications
sgallagher -at- expersoft -dot- com Expersoft Corporation, San Diego CA
http://www.expersoft.com

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