Re: Writing for on-line

Subject: Re: Writing for on-line
From: Julie Knoeller <jknoelle -at- CISCO -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 17 Feb 1998 13:37:04 -0800

I'm reminded of the Einstein quote (I'm going to butcher it) that "things
should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."

Certainly online docs and hard docs have different capabilities as
information delivery tools, and while it is tempting to see the "limited"
scope of online docs as perscriptive of more limited or "reduced"
information, I can't help but wonder why this technology was developed if
it makes us LESS able to give readers what they need instead of more? Isn't
the point of Hypertext-type applications to allow for a more intuitive
accessibility? IOWs, a restructuring of info, not a reduction of info. So
the medium requires creative restructuring of our what? I've
personally "used" so much terse, vacuous, pointless online help that only
contains observations on the obvious that I rarely click on it anymore.
So usability studies say less text on the screen; doesn't that mean more
better screens? I know that most of you know better than to think that a
change of style equals a lessening of content, but this is what I often run
into and it annoys me to no end.
EOR (end of rant)

At 01:09 PM 2/17/98 PST, Matthew Bin wrote:
>>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
>Get Your Private, Free Email at

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