FAQ > Online Documentation
FAQ: Online Documentation
Documentation of any kind that is electronically available to the user any time it's needed. The most common distribution methods have the documentation on network servers or on your intranet so that the developers can easily maintain it.
Definitely. Online documents require an operating network/intranet. There are emergency situations where you may not have a operating system available, such as a power outage.
In a case such as this, you may well need printed documentation. We have one client who put his Emergency Recovery Procedure in both printed and online format. By maintaining the online format, it is always available for use and review. He could make a printed manual master from the online source in 15 minutes from the time he decided to print a manual to the time the last sheet rolled out of the printer. He then distributed both the printed manual and a diskette with the online procedures to the department heads. They could then use the diskette if they had a laptop, or just use the printed manual.
Prints are still quite useful for things like Quick Reference Guides and cheat sheets. The guideline for printing is based on:
Two major considerations:
With printed documentation, you have the cost of duplication, manual covers such as notebooks, and physical shipping. With online documentation, these costs go to zero.
The labor involved in paper distribution includes not only that of duplication and distribution as above, but also in the time the end user takes to update the manual he currently has. If you're doing a complete manual replacement just to change several pages, it still has the same cost as if you re-did the entire manual. This is one reason why many organizations have their manuals so out-of-date.
Is there a difference in formatting and document structure between online documentation and printed manuals?
Usually there is a considerable difference in both formatting and structure between the two documentation types. The output medium is considerably different, and the typical use is usually different. Here's a comparison:
Many different types. Many consider that putting some Word documents out in a shared file server directory to be "online documentation". However, this gives no method of searching more than one document or going between documents. Opening a document in Word takes both time and computer resources, so this is not a very viable solution.
A design decision needs to be made at the beginning of the documentation project -- is the documentation's major purpose to be viewed (and searched) online or to be printed. If the major purpose is for print (formatting, fonts and document structure have high importance), then Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Format (PDF) is a good choice. With the proper design and setup, you can create a system that enables the user to search for and print documents.
If the major purpose is for online search and viewing, not print, then you need a different format. If you have an established intranet operating, then you can use either WebHelp (which creates a stand-alone, packaged manual) or Web pages like a website. If you have a standard network, then you can use Windows Help, which comes in various flavors.
Windows Help formats differ, but they generally have these features in common:
Used primarily as application and standalone Help (like online manuals) for systems using Windows 9x/NT. The original versions (3 and 4) have the advantage of using incremental data transfer; you can have a 10 Mb Help file on a server, but only a few kilobytes at a time are transferred on demand across the network. CKI recommends this format because of its simplicity, low network load, and special full-text search capabilities.
Microsoft HTML Help
This is the style Microsoft introduced with the later versions of Windows. It usually displays as two major panes; the Table of Contents/Index etc. on the left and the material on the right.
The HTML Help files are meant to be used on the local computer system, not across a network. The entire file is loaded when you run it, so it would place a heavy load on a network.
This is for use on an intranet and enables you to package your documentation and give it a totally different look and feel if you desire. It's main advantage is that it can be placed on one Web server and all users can access it from their with a Web browser.
Three major reasons:
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