Re: PDF vs. Hard Copy

Subject: Re: PDF vs. Hard Copy
From: Steve Pendleton <SPendlet -at- COGNEX -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 2 Sep 1998 11:00:19 -0700

>I see PDF as a portable document format, which allows you to maintain
>visual integrity in a document intended to be printed. It is not
>well-suited to online help or online documentation.

PDF is an excellent format for online documentation but a
poor format for online help. Many current PDF files are just
a dump of the print master to PDF. They do 'maintain the
visual integrity,' but they don't begin to exploit the potential
of the medium. Using FrameMaker as a front end to Acrobat,
you can easily produce sophisticated hypertext documents
with off-the-shelf tools. Many design decisions aimed at
print production don't apply to online PDF, so getting
good results requires rethinking layout, type handling,
and document structure. Don't sell PDF short.

>This means we are asking the user to print out the documentation.

Maybe or maybe not. You haven't told us what kind of documentation
you're producing. Are you writing large blocks of reference
for programmers? Are you writing tutorials for people training
Keiko the Orca? Or what? It makes a difference. Programmer
reference, for example, works great online, and no one prints it
all out. They just pop to whatever page they need, grab the factoid,
and move on. Installation manuals, on the other hand, can
be silly and useless online.

OK, so you're shifting the cost of printing to the customer. That's
not automatically a negative. Printing short-run technical manuals
is VERY expensive, but printing CDs is almost free. Profit is
just as important as ease of use. That's reality.

>My experience has always been that the moment you introduce an obstacle
>between the user and the documentation, you lose a percentage of them.

In some contexts, reaching up on the shelf, opening a hardcopy book,
and trying to track down the relevant page is an obstacle. For
lengthy reference works in computer-oriented context, going online
REMOVES an obstacle. Online is better in some contexts, worse
in others. What's your context?

The tone of your email strongly suggests that you're not looking for
neutral information but instead looking for ammunition to support a
your affection for tangible, printed books. Writers tend to be bookish
people, so that's a common habit of thought. Resistance to change
is natural, but success producing hypertext documents will depend
depend on enthusiasm for the format.

>My fear is that the manuals my department has worked so
>hard to create will be read by only a small portion of their
>intended audience.

They already don't read it.

Steve Pendleton
Technical Writer DeLuxe
Cognex, Acumen Products Group
"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain"

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