Re: PDFs: how do people really use them?

Subject: Re: PDFs: how do people really use them?
From: HALL Bill <hallb -at- TENIX -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 3 May 1999 17:22:00 +1000

Just a general comment about Sandra's request for information about how
people use them.

In researching documentation management products, I have had occasion to try
to read hundreds of PDF files available through the Web. In most cases, all
I wanted to do was read or just skim the contents - with no requirement to
save or print the material.

Presumably, end-user manuals and the like may well benefit from being
printed, but most marketing oriented documents won't be printed and saved if
it isn't easy to read on-screen.

However, in my experience most PDF files I have opened were primarily
marketing oriented, and were formatted with multiple columns and such small
type fonts that they were virtually impossible to read on-line because if
they were enlarged enough to read the type on my large, high-res screen,
scrolling up and down two or three times just to scan each column on a page,
became a major and tedious chore, leaving me with the only choice but to
waste time and paper sending it to a printer. In a number of cases, I
decided that I wasn't enough interested in the product to persevere, and
pulled the plug. Whatever effort had been spent to create the document
never saw the light of the day.

Fancy formatting on top of small print costs your intended reader time to
receive, open and print. If you want the document to be read, remember that
your customer is impatient with the time to download and may even have bad
eyesight even if they do stay connected long enough to do the download.

Moral: If you are aiming the document to be read by Web users, consider the
viewing environment before you worry about what it will look like in

I think most people don't actually want to print the document unless they
are referring it to colleagues who don't have Web access, or want to save it
as a permanent record in case the Web site changes, etc.

Bill Hall
Documentation Systems Specialist
Integrated Logistic Support
Naval Projects and Support
Tenix Defence Systems Pty Ltd
Williamstown, Vic. 3016 Australia

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