Most large organizations now want their technical documents online—either
on their Internet or intranet site. Much of our current work involves
designing Web pages and populating them with information.
The software for producing online documents has been around for
years, but for various reasons, few documents were published online.
The explosive growth in the use of the Internet and intranets,
however, has provided a reliable means of making a broad range
of documents accessible to anyone with a Web browser. Many organizations
are now using their Internet or intranet site as the primary way
of communicating information to their employees, clients, and the
public. The corporate library is finally going online.
Advantages of Online Documents
Here are some advantages that online documents have over print
- They can be updated rapidly, so readers get up-to-date information
- They can be searched and browsed quickly using the search engine,
table of contents, index, or internal cross-references.
- Printing and distribution costs are reduced or eliminated.
Print or Online or Both?
For many organizations, the question is not whether to produce
a print document or an online document, but whether to produce
a print document and an online document. Publishing them online
doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t need print copies.
In many cases, you’ll need both.
Here’s why you may want both print and online documents:
- Not all staff use a computer, have easy access to one, or use
it often enough to feel comfortable. As a guideline, online documents
are only useful for people who regularly use a computer as part
of their job.
- It’s not easy to read an online document on the bus or
at home (it’s possible, just not easy).
- It will cost too much to get everyone linked together, particularly
the cost of upgrading hardware and software and the cost of retraining.
Information That Doesn’t Belong Online
Not all information belongs online. Some information is better
off in print form. Here are some examples of information that shouldn’t
- Large amounts of text, such as a textbook, that must be read
thoroughly (the monitor is too hard to read for extended periods)
- Any information intended for people who aren’t regular
users of computers
- Procedural information that will be used away from the desk
(such as anything in a field guide)
- Emergency recovery procedures for recovering from a power failure
The best type of information to go online is quick-reference information—anything
that the user will browse or search rather than systematically
read. Internal documents, such as policy and procedure or reference
manuals, work well online because few people read them for extended
periods—they are reference publications.