Re: Binders

Subject: Re: Binders
From: Robert Plamondon <robert -at- PLAMONDON -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 7 Mar 1997 10:25:51 PST

Carolyn Haley writes:

>In addition, I believe that binders are more efficient, both in overall
>production cost and use of materials. My pettest of all pet peeves is
>waste, and using binders allows you to break your doc into components and
>thus address changes on a component basis rather than overhauling on the
>larger scale required for a bound document.

It depends somewhat on circumstances, but I've never seen anyone save
money on binders. Binders start out life with high costs, such as:

* Binders are more expensive than binding.
* Binders require sturdier paper than bound books, if the pages are to
stay in.
* Drilling the paper for binders is more expensive than not drilling it.
* Manuals in binders are heavier than bound manuals, increasing shipping
* Assembling the binders requires (someone's) labor, above and beyond the
already high price of the binder itself. Bound manuals, on the other
hand, require no additional assembly.

These are just the disadvantages in manufacturing cost. There are additional
disadvantages in the creation of new editions:

* Pagination, indexes, and tables of contents are difficult to manage under
an incremental-release system, adding labor costs. The problem is addressed
most effectively by updating entire chapters or documents within the
binder, but this tends to erase any savings. Many companies simply
omit the troublesome indexes and tables of contents entirely, crippling
their documents in the process.

* Since you only save money if you don't reissue most of the binder, there
is a real disincentive to updating the material. It's not unusual to
have a binder set in which all but the most recent portions are obsolete,
with the updates existing only on a marked-up copy on the tech writer's
desk, awaiting the day that a go-ahead comes down to spend the money
for a revised edition.

Let me reiterate that the biggest source of waste in Tech Pubs is of time.
The companies spend their writers' time like water with inadequate training,
poor tools, a Cult of the Engineer which encourages bad manners and
unprofessional behavior by "genius engineers" toward "mere mortals,"
and by inappropriate bean-counting that ignores the fact that labor
costs overshadow everything else in virtually all publications groups.

In addition, the production of less-than-stellar documentation is a hindrance
to the people who are trying to use your company's product, wasting
their time and putting their company and yours at a disadvantage.

In my experience, binders can have a place in a scheme to provide users
with up-to-the-minute information, though they are by and large an
obsolete technology. This can be done through a chronologically structured
series of documents -- in other words, technical bulletins. You would
ship a new table of contents and index with each new technical bulletin.
If you revised an old bulletin, you'd ship a new one (with a new number),
update your TOC and index to cease referring to the old one, and ask
the user to replace the old one with a page referring to the new one.

The nice thing about the technical bulletin format is that it is reasonably
effective even if the user just skims it and throws it into a box. He
has thus been exposed to the new material, and will likely have a vague
recollection of it when the time comes. This isn't much, but it's orders
of magnitude better than what happens with most manual updates, which
the users never even glance at. It's the "news bulletin" format that
does it.

Of course, a new user would find a document set that's backed up by
67 news bulletins to have an intensely annoying structure. The main
document should be updated with the same information as the bulletin,
and never allowed to get too far out of date.

-- Robert
Robert Plamondon, High-Tech Technical Writing, Inc.
36475 Norton Creek Road * Blodgett * Oregon * 97326
robert -at- plamondon -dot- com * (541) 453-5841 * Fax: (541) 453-4139

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