Re: (long) Delivering docs electronically

Subject: Re: (long) Delivering docs electronically
From: Keith Arnett <Keith_Arnett -at- RESTON -dot- OMD -dot- STERLING -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 2 Feb 1998 10:23:03 EST

A well-done online help system can be equal to or better than the best
printed documentation. It may be of help to point out to your
managers that many applications are shipping without printed
documentation these days, or, where it is available, it is an extra
cost option.

However, the real point of analysis should be your customers' needs
and expectations. Many of our software products are directed to
mainframe users, and they expect abundant paper documentation
(although their expectations for the **quality** of that documentation
are not too high :-) ). Our UNIX customers, on the other hand, are
used to reading man pages and are generally more disposed toward
online help.

With each major software release, we publish complete paper
documentation (at least an installation manual and an
operation/administration manual--sometimes additional manuals are
required). These documents are developed in FrameMaker, and are also
created as PDF files.

Each product ships with a documentation CD-ROM that contains all of
the documents for **all** of our products (this is somewhere around
75-80 publications) in PDF format (sales/marketing likes this, viewing
it as a cross-selling opportunity).

Generally speaking, as the documentation is updated to reflect
fixes/patches/incremental releases, the updated docs are placed on the
CD-ROM, which is re-issued every two or three months. The paper
manuals remain dormant, and are revised only for the next major

The customer is informed of this revision policy, and can obtain the
latest CD-ROM on request. We are also in the process of placing the
CD-ROM contents on our web site, for access by registered customers
with a userid and password. Additionally, the CD-ROM is available
from a CD-ROM server on our intranet, which provided easy access to
documentation for all employees, regardless of product specialty.

Finally, we also publish fixes and fix documentation to our
customer-accessible web site. Customers who do not have web access
can obtain this information from our customer service department.

I can understand your hesitation to break down your existing manual
into multiple publications, but I would urge you to consider the
possiblity with an open mind. Certain document-management tasks will
increase, but you will also find that you will gain some welcome
flexibility, and your customers may appreciate a more modular

One big advantage of online documentation for software products is
that is has a major impact on your development cycle. Essentially,
your delivery date becomes the same as the deadline date for the
developers, and you avoid the earlier deadline imposed by having to
send the document to the printer. This can significantly cut down on
"errata and addenda" caused by engineers tinkering with the software
after you send the doc to the printer (but I'm sure this never happens
in your development lab ;-) )

We use perfect binding for most of our manuals; when the limits of
perfect binding are reached, the document is split up. We do use GBC
binding for smaller (<100 page) documents.

Hope these comments are of some help...


Keith Arnett
Technical Writer/Reston Labs
Sterling Software, Inc./Operations Management Division
Reston VA USA

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: (long) Delivering docs electronically
Author: Ginna Watts <gwatts -at- PIM -dot- BC -dot- CA> at ~sydressmtp
Date: 1/30/98 6:18 PM

Hi all,

I am faced with some big decisions about how we will publish our
documentation this year.

<< snip >>

Does anyone have any arguments for or against the online solution? Is
management right - should I just grit my teeth and figure out a new way to
do it on paper?

TIA, Ginna
Ginna Watts - Technical Writer
Pacific International Mapping
Victoria, BC
(250) 727-0727
gwatts -at- pim -dot- bc -dot- ca

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