Re: Writing for on-line

Subject: Re: Writing for on-line
From: "Bergen, Jane" <janeb -at- ANSWERSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 18 Feb 1998 09:46:17 -0600

On Wednesday, February 18, 1998 7:55 AM, Mary Nurminen
[SMTP:manurmin -at- TRE -dot- TELE -dot- NOKIA -dot- FI] wrote:
> >
> > However, writing differently for the mediums is not the same as
> > poorly for paper. The very nature of online and print documentation
> > different and must be addressed differently. Because online is

> >
> > Printed documentation, on the other hand needs to flow.
> Oh? You're inferring that the reader actually sits down and reads it
cover to
> cover. Which we all know they don't do. They read it, for the most
> extremely choppily and in small chunks. This, I believe, is the norm,
or the
> 'standard' use, actually, not the other way around. Even in print.

This statement does not hold true for the results of most readability
studies. Readers don't really read choppily, nor do they necessarily
even hunt information in discrete chunks. What they do bring to printed
docs are a fairly common set of expectations about the arrangement of
the information.

Readers may not read a printed manual from front to back, but the manual
does have a "flow" that online does not have. For example, most readers
expect to find the more general information before specific information,
old before new, simple before advanced. They expect to find, in better
manuals, an "overview" or "introduction" at the beginning of most
chapters that covers the broader issues, with the "how-to" information
grouped by category, function, etc. Even our engineers/developers make
extensive use of the overview material when learning a new concept or
language or tool. Readers may or may not use the "how-to" information at
all....many are experimenters. They feel that once they have grasped the
concepts, the how-to should be intuitive...or they'll get it from the
online help.

Also, with online, there is no concept of grouping categories unless you
plan out your online topics to make use of the Browse buttons, although
in fact (a fact I regret!) most of the new online help offerings seem to
be eliminating Browse features altogether.


Jane Bergen, Technical Writer,
AnswerSoft, Inc. Richardson, TX
(972) 997-8355
janeb -at- answersoft -dot- com

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