Re: Writing for on-line

Subject: Re: Writing for on-line
From: Lee Kimmelman <panda -at- WESTSOUND -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 17 Feb 1998 20:12:03 -0800

At 03:06 PM 2/17/98 -0500, you 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.
>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.

No it is not. I'll get to it in a minute...

>Recommendation to
>writers: for paper you must write longer and more complex than you would for
>Which, plainly, is nonsense.

This is correct.

However, writing differently for the mediums is not the same as writing
poorly for paper. The very nature of online and print documentation is
different and must be addressed differently. Because online is frequently
presented in small bits and in a less structured environment, the
information must be presented more modularly. Many (if not all) topics must
be able to stand on their own and have a clear beginning and end point.
There is usually no sense of flow, if for no other reason than because it
is (usually) impassible to predict where the reader will be accessing a
topic from. Some of the ways they could get there include:

Context sensitive from a program
A link from a related topic
The contents structure
The index

Printed documentation, on the other hand needs to flow. To writ print
documents like online documents would make the reading extremely choppy and
hard to follow. The point is not that you should write long, flowery
passages to impress the reader. Rather it is that you should connect the
thoughts of the document so that it flows seamlessly from page to page,
chapter to chapter.

This does not mean that people will not (or do not) sometimes use printed
docs like online docs, as a source of quick, in-out, information. Nor does
it mean that people do not use online docs to browse and generally read
about a product. It just means that these are non-standard uses. Thus the
documents should be written accordingly.

Best regards,

Lee Kimmelman
panda -at- westsound -dot- com

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