Re: Writing for on-line

Subject: Re: Writing for on-line
From: Matthew Bin <mattbin -at- HOTMAIL -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 17 Feb 1998 13:09:44 PST

>There has been a lot of discussion on the list recently about single
>sourcing information for paper and online presentation.

( 8< )

>for online is absurd. To see how absurd it is, imagine we had had
>media for years and paper had just been invented. Usability studies
>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
>readers are more tolerant of verbose and obscure prose on paper than
>is not excuse for being verbose and obscure. It is certainly no reason
>deliberately design separate verbose and complex versions of
information for
>paper presentation.

I'm not sure that the analogy really stands, though. I know that for
paper documentation I tend to write for an 8.5x11 reading space, and if
that means that there's only one or two headings on it, no problem. For
online help in a usual window size, though, that's three or four entire
screens. I would favour a more bite-sized approach.

But the same holds true when writing for different audiences. If I were
writing for a newspaper, I would have plenty of one-sentence paragraphs
(and one-syllable words, incidentally), but I abhor the very idea of a
one-sentence paragraph and I try to avoid those when writing for other
media (if the gods had wanted periods to be paragraphs, they would have
come with carriage returns).

Let's not forget that we are still working under many of the assumptions
that the monks in medieval scriptoria worked under in terms of
aesthetics and so on (not to downplay their own influences, but they
were the last step before print media). I think we have no choice but
to change our style to reflect the medium in which we work.

Matthew Bin
Technical Writer
NeoDyne Consulting, Ltd.
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

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