Re: On-Line & Manuals

Subject: Re: On-Line & Manuals
From: Barb Philbrick <caslonsvcs -at- IBM -dot- NET>
Date: Thu, 19 Feb 1998 20:53:15 GMT

Jill wrote:
>In the discussion of single sourcing and reusing information I've
>noticed something that strikes me as odd. Many people refer to
>conversion of hardcopy to online, but I've never seen anyone refer to
>conversion of online to hardcopy.

On new material, I like to go from online to hard copy. The
discussions probably focus on hard copy to online because we usually
have an existing hard copy document that someone decided they wanted
to put online.

I like to go from online to hard-copy because:

1. I can concentrate on the text without getting hung up on various
graphics and formatting problems. (I generally use fewer graphics,
especially screengrabs, in online than in hard copy.)

2. I find that I spend more up-front time structuring online help than
I would in a hard copy document. This makes me more efficient in the
long haul for both types of documents.

3. It's easier (IMO; maybe "I'm less likely to mess it up" is more
appropriate) to add new topics than to convert an existing section
into a topic. It's also easier to take out the stuff that makes online
help tick than it is to put it in.

4. I tend to write more concisely when I write online help. It's not
that I don't try to in hard copy, but I'm more conscious of space
consideration and length of procedures when I'm doing online, so they
tend to be shorter.

5. Depending on the project and whether or not we're producing full
documentation in both media, I tend to put very procedural information
in online help and more theoretical stuff in hard copy. If I'm
including the procedures in the hard copy, it seems easier to add the
theory "around" the procedures than to remove the theory to go to

>I've written manuals for nearly 20 years and I think organizing them
>has become somewhat automatic. Online design forces me to analyze
>product-specific content more thoroughly than book format does. But,
>does this reflect something inherent in the online medium or just the
>fact that it's newer to me? If it's newness, how do we keep that fresh
>edge when we move from system to system?

I think it's inherent to online. It forces you to chunk things
together logically and make sure you have links, whether it's through
the contents, index, pop-ups, or browse sequences, to everything. In a
book, people can find a badly placed piece of information by
page-flipping, or you can put a side note on the page if something
doesn't quite flow. In online, you have to work a little harder to
make a pop-up or figure out the right index entry so someone can find
those kinds of things, so instead you spend some extra time organizing
the information.


Barbara Philbrick, Caslon Services Inc.
Technical Writing. caslonsvcs -at- ibm -dot- net
Cleveland, OH

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