Re: Writing for on-line

Subject: Re: Writing for on-line
From: Elna Tymes <etymes -at- LTS -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 17 Feb 1998 13:08:28 -0800

Mark Baker wrote:
> 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.

> But the conclusion that we should write differently for paper and
> for online is absurd.

Which misses the point. The usability studies have demonstrated that
people can't spend as much time staring at a screen, sequentially
following lines of prose the way one does with a book. Simple eye
strain ensues, causing the reader to look away. A book, with its pages
and pages of text, lets you do a kind of 'unfocus' on the page, so that
your eye grasps phrases and sometimes complete lines at a glance.

A side note: it would be interesting to know if there have been any
usability studies on why the eye needs to move around the screen, but
doesn't seem to need the same kinds of alternatives on the printed page
AS MUCH. (Que and Sybex and the other technical book publishers long
ago did the research that showed the value of graphical items on a page
as a way of making ordinary text more friendly.)

The pressures toward single-sourcing have largely come from
cost-conscious organizations who don't fully understand how people grasp
information. As you pointed out, there is no offline equivalent to
hyperlinks. On the other hand, detailed descriptions of how a
particular piece of code works, or how some complex piece of machinery
works, is probably best handled on paper.

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems

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