Writing for on-line

Subject: Writing for on-line
From: Mark Baker <mbaker -at- OMNIMARK -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 17 Feb 1998 15:06:34 -0500

There has been a lot of discussion on the list recently about single
sourcing information for paper and online presentation. Many posters have
referred to what now seems to be the received wisdom that we must write
less, and simpler, for online consumption than we do for paper.

This idea seems to have originated from user interface designers who based
it on studies comparing the readability of paper and computer screens. What
surprises me is that writers seem to have generally accepted this completely
absurd idea.

I don't suggest that the readability studies are absurd. They are clearly
correct. But the conclusion that we should write differently for paper and
for online is absurd. To see how absurd it is, imagine we had had online
media for years and paper had just been invented. Usability studies would
show that paper was easier to read than the screen. Recommendation to
writers: for paper you must write longer and more complex than you would for

Which, plainly, is nonsense. You never write more than you need to. You
never make an explanation more complex than it needs to be. The fact that
readers are more tolerant of verbose and obscure prose on paper than online
is not excuse for being verbose and obscure. It is certainly no reason to
deliberately design separate verbose and complex versions of information for
paper presentation.

On any and every subject we should write as simply and as concisely as we
can, and present that simple and concise material in whatever media suits
the reader best.

Mark Baker
Manager, Corporate Communications
OmniMark Technologies Corporation
1400 Blair Place
Gloucester, Ontario
Canada, K1J 9B8
Phone: 613-745-4242
Fax: 613-745-5560
Email mbaker -at- omnimark -dot- com

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