Re: PDFs: how do people really use them?

Subject: Re: PDFs: how do people really use them?
From: Michele Marques <mmarques -at- CMS400 -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 3 May 1999 10:20:10 -0400

I am only now working on making PDFs of documentation available
to customers, but we have long had on-line help (completely text-
based, as this is on an AS/400) as well as a "documentation
printer" program to print complete manuals or sections thereof.

I can tell you from experience what our customers seem to be
doing, and what I expect to happen with our PDF documentation.

> From: S Charker <scharker -at- SYNFLUX -dot- COM -dot- AU>
> Subject: PDFs: how do people really use them?

> 1. Does anyone know their users routinely print and file whole documents for
> use by groups of people?

I find that users frequently print small documents (see below for
numbers) for use by themselves or groups of people. Sometimes
this is to be used as part of job instructions. People usually don't
want to print large documents and would rather order extra copies
of those manuals from us.

> 2. Is there some limit on the number of pages individuals are willing to
> print?

Almost everyone is willing to print 2 - 10 page documents, if the
process to print is not difficult. Some people are willing to print 30 -
50 page documents, but others would rather order the manual.
Very few people are willing to print 500+ page documents, and
would rather order the manual.

I am providing PDF documents in two formats. One is meant for on-
line reference and printing small sections. Each manual is divided
into many small PDF documents, and a hyperlinked table-of-
contents document and a search index assist in locating the
appropriate information. I expect that users will find it convenient to
print one or a few small sections at a time.

For the users who really do want to reprint the entire manual, I am
also providing a CD where each manual is a single PDF file. If they
want to print sections, it will probably be annoying to use the large
PDF file, as Acrobat counts page numbers from page 1 to the end,
while we use the section - page scheme (e.g., page 5-12).

> 3. Do people print part of all of documents to keep, or to throw away after
> use?

On the current (non-PDF system) usually only the IS department
(computer support at the company) has access to printing
documents. As we update documentation electronicly, it is
currently used to update the manuals (replacing changed
sections), as well as for other permanent purposes. I expect that in
the new (PDF) system, more users will be given access to
viewing/printing PDFs than were able to print the old documents.
As it will be easy to print instructions, I expect that users will often
print instructions that they throw out when they no longer need
them (e.g., have learned the new procedure) or lose (because it is
easy to get a new printout).

> 4. Does anyone test the usability of PDFs for online use?

As I am providing PDFs for a new release of our software, I am
testing the PDFs internally in my company before releasing them
to our users. Mostly I am testing my instructions (on how to install
the Reader+Search and use navigation & search features).

- Michele

Michele Marques
Technical Writer, CMS Manufacturing
mmarques -at- cms400 -dot- com
905-477-4499 x280

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