Re: PDF v paper

Subject: Re: PDF v paper
From: Roy Jacobsen <rjacobse -at- GREATPLAINS -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 16 Dec 1998 14:54:23 -0600

Darren Barefoot [mailto:dbarefoot -at- MPS-CANADA -dot- COM] writes:

>On-line documentation is a far superior format. No one can argue that
>full-colour graphics, audible instructions and animated screen-shots aren't
>superior to a black and white text.

Um, actually, I _can_ argue that plain black and white text _can_ be
superior to full-colour graphics, audible instructions, animated
screen-shots, and all the other bells and whistles available in online

1. People don't use Help systems. As Jared Spool has noted, choosing a Help
button or menu is an admission of failure. There is a tremendous
psychological barrier between most people and online documentation;
therefore, in those situations, plain-text information that people will use
is superior to online information that they won't.

2. Multimedia components (animations, audio and video) are vastly more
expensive and time-consuming to produce. Most companies have limited time
and resources to produce information content; given those limits, you just
can't produce as much whiz-bang stuff as you can plain text. More
information in a plain-text format is superior to less information in a
whiz-bang format.

3. We don't know much yet about the retention of info from "full-colour
graphics, audible instructions and animated screen-shots," but not all the
results are glowingly positive. Going back to Jared Spool's work (he has
been studying tax software), he found that people will watch the video clips
in online doc, but afterwards have virtually no idea what the clip was
about. Plain-text information that people remember is superior to whiz-bang
info that people forget.

None of this is to say that online documentation is not a good thing. It has
some wonderful advantages over print. Online is not, however, a panacea, nor
is print an outmoded, inefficient tool. Both have their strengths and

Roy M. Jacobsen
Great Plains
rjacobse -at- greatplains -dot- com

Read and revise, reread and revise, keep reading and revising until your
text seems adequate to your thought. -- Jacques Barzun

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