What is more effective, a print document or an online document? It wasn't all that long ago that print documents would definitely have been voted more effective, especially considering the poor quality of computer monitors and slow internet speeds. (Remember trying to pull up a document on a modem?)
Given the speed of today's internet and mobile device support, print documents are likely going the way of the dinosaur. Online documents have several advantages to their print counterparts. For instance, eBooks reflow to fit the user's device (think about how popular eBook readers such as the Amazon Kindle have become in just the past few years). Online documents are searchable, typically contain hyperlinks for easy navigation, often include videos and/or animations, and some even contain interactivity in the form of eLearning simulations created in Adobe Captivate or Articulate Storyline.
There are millions upon millions of print documents around the business world that would gain new life if they were online. The major challenge in moving from unstructured to structured documentation, or page layout to reflowing text, or paper to online, is the shift in mindset required. Simply put, many old design paradigms used for print documents don't fit in new media design.
There are many reasons for converting paper documents to online documents such as cost, efficiency of updating, document control, accessibility, and discoverability. Surprisingly, for the custodians of paper documents charged with managing the conversion, there is often a reluctance to embrace the migration from print to online. For those custodians, the paper version remains the primary document, and the online version is secondary.
Even if the paper custodians agree to take the paper documents online, much time and effort is spent trying to imitate the paper design in the online design. For example, the paper documents are scanned and converted to PDF. While aPDF will work in an online world, a PDF is really just a digital replica of the paper document. While a PDF may open on a tablet or smartphone, it won't re-flow to fit the user's screen like an eBook.
If you're trying to convince the "powers that be" to make the move from print documentation to an online document, consider the following:
The text used in the print document may require a specific font and font size. When online content is displayed for the user, the user's device may have limited font capabilities. Even if the device is capable of displaying the font, if the user doesn't have that specific font installed on the device, the font displayed will be the browser's default. For instance, you have used Futura as the font for your content. If the user accesses your content via a web browser and does not have the Futura font on their computer, the browser will likely display Times New Roman instead.
Paragraphs may need to be indented by a specific amount. While setting up a specific indentation is easy in a print layout tool such as Adobe InDesign, the user's device may have limits to how indentations are displayed.
Headings may have to be sequentially numbered. While many print layout tools allow you to easily number paragraphs, those automatic numbers may not display properly online.
You may be required to include footnotes. While footnotes are easy to add to print documents, they're a problem online. Since there really isn't an end to a page online, where would the footnotes go?
Page numbers may no longer be valid. If your print document includes cross references (such as, "For more information, see page 11"), you could end up with a mess. If your print content is displayed as an eBook, the content that was on page 11 could now be located on page 22. If the text on the page tells the user to reference page 11, but the text is actually on page 22, you can imagine the trouble you'll have.
The graphics could be huge. In the print document, high resolution photos were used. They look great on paper. However, they're so big (in megabytes, not width or height), they'll take forever to download over the Internet if you leave them as-is. To use the images, you'll need to allow time to save the images as online versions (in jpeg or png format). When you do, the images will likely lose quality. Will they still look good?
If you do decide to migrate your print documents to the online world, off-the-shelf authoring tools such as Adobe RoboHelp and MadCap Flare will help make the process easy. Both tools allow you to quickly convert printed documentation (especially Word documents) into online documents. Both tools support cascading style sheets that handle fonts, colors, paragraph numbering, and indentation. And both tools allow you to create master pages complete with headers and footers. Nevertheless, there are limits to what any authoring tool can do when it comes to recreating the look and feel of a print document, so look into the limitations of each tool prior to moving forward.
What's your take on print documents as compared to online documents? Is print doomed? Which medium do you think is more effective, print or online? What tool do you use to convert from print to online? Can you share instances/examples where you think print documents are more effective than online documents? Feel free to post your opinion as comments below.
As a brief review, variables can contain information that occurs frequently in your project, such as a product name, company name, or copyright notice. After creating the variable, you can insert it into any RoboHelp topic or onto a template by simply dragging and dropping. Now here's the cool part. Assume your company name now appears throughout your project and now you want to change it. Without the variable, you would have to search your entire project and update the company name. Thanks to variables, all you will need to do is update the definition of the CompanyName variable, and you will change the displayed company name project-wide in just a few seconds.
One issue you'll come across when inserting variables within a topic is that, by default, the variable text looks like regular topic text. In the picture below, I challenge you to locate the variable.
Did you find the variable text? I'm betting that the answer is no. So what's the big deal? This can be particularly frustrating if you need to replace regular text with a variable. For example, you can highlight regular text in a topic and convert it to a variable by dragging the variable on top of the text. That's an awesome feature. Before I begin however, I need to be able to tell, at a glance, if the text I'm looking to replace is already a variable. As it stands, I have no idea since I cannot tell the difference between a variable and regular text.
Luckily, RoboHelp has a handy feature that allows you to distinguish between variables and regular text in topics. To enable this feature, simply choose View > Show > Fields.
Voila. All variables in topics are now shown as green text. Best of all, variables only show up green in your project... when you generate a layout, the green color will not be visible to your users.
While HUDs may seem like something you'll find only in fighter jets or the movies, they are actually creeping into everyday life. For instance, HUDs are now installed as standard equipment in many cars displaying speed, distance, and messages onto the windshield. Drivers don't need to move their head up or down to read the text; they can keep looking straight ahead.
If your car isn't equipped with a HUD, you can use your smart phone, download a HUD app, place the phone on the dashboard, and reflect an inverted readout onto the windshield. And you can purchase HUD navigation systems (such as the unit shown below from Garmin).
There's a new type of HUD that's attracting lots of attention: Google Glass. Glass isn't the only product of its type on the market (there are dozens), but it attracts the most publicity. These wearable technology products display text in a tiny HUD in a pair of lens-less spectacles. The text displayed depends on the application; it could be the current time, an appointment, alerts... but it could also be procedural information, checklists, or product descriptions.
What does HUD technology have to do with technical communication? HUDs will provide innovative new ways to deliver technical information. For instance, Virgin Atlantic is currently testing Google Glass at Heathrow Airport. According to CNN, "The airline is conducting a six-week experiment with the wearable technology for passengers in its Upper Class Lounge at London. With data flashing before their eyes, staff can update customers on their latest flight information, as well as weather and events at their destination."
If the Virgin Atlantic tests prove successful, the opportunities for technical communicators are endless. Beyond simply documenting HUD devices and applications, technical documentation and eLearning content could actually be displayed on a HUD. There will be challenges of course. Writers looking to create content for HUDs will need to embrace writing techniques such as minimalism and separation of content and form. Nevertheless, it will be possible for technical communicators to one day deliver to this new media... a layer above reality.
April 25, 2014 in Adobe's Technical Communication Suite, Documentation, Help Authoring, iOS, mLearning, TCS5, TechComm, Technical Communications, Technical Writing, Technology, training, UA, User Assistance, User Experience, UX, Web/Tech, Writing, Writing & Grammar | Permalink | Comments (0)
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The roadside was sprinkled with breadcrumbs, and however you look at it, that bird's luck had finally turned.
As you all determined, the comma after breadcrumbs is required. Placing another comma after and is optional, but according to the late William Sabin, of the Gregg Reference Manual, the preferred usage is to omit that extra comma. His reasoning is that a comma after and makes the following introductory element appear as though it is nonessential, when actually it is essential.
If you read the sentence aloud, you will find that your voice does not drop on the clause however you look at it, as it would if this were a truly nonessential interruption in the sentence.
Read this aloud: The roadside was sprinkled with breadcrumbs, and, however you look at it, that bird's luck had finally turned.
Compare it with this truly nonessential interruption:
Read this aloud: The bird, by the way, was a chickadee.
I'm guessing you found that your voice definitely dropped in pitch and loudness on "by the way" but did not drop on "however you look at it." Having commas both before and after the clause indicates that your voice should drop because the part surrounded by commas is parenthetical, or nonessential. Here, we have just experienced that the clause is not parenthetical.
"But I want a pause there!" I can hear you thinking. Well, I sympathize. I have previously discussed the tendency in training videos for the speaker to pause gratuitously but meaningfully after the word and, like this:
Spoken: "Select the text you wish to format, and [pause] choose 14 from the Font Size drop-down menu."
The pause in speaking draws the learner's attention to the next instruction, "choose." However, putting a comma after and to indicate that pause is ungrammatical. What to do? What to do? Perhaps it is time to make the leap to "literary" punctuation, where the commas indicate pauses rather than grammatical structures. If I accept literary punctuation, with that extra comma, I need to add the following names to the list of winners: Alicia Grimes, Michelle Duran, Alisha Sauer, Gail Kelleher, Joanne Chantelau, and Vera Sytch.
Correct answers to the Puppies challenge on Apostrophes are brought to you by Kay Honaker.