Technical Authors - Documentation Consultants - Content Management













Screen Use

Screen-based documentation can take many forms. The more common options include:

  • Adobe Acrobat PDF
  • On-Line Help

At first, the option to prepare documentation for use on-screen seems have no disadvantages. If you abandon paper, you save money on print costs and storage. You keep down the cost of packaging, and you have no printed manuals to become out-of-date. You can make documentation available very quickly - certainly much more quickly than on paper.

However, abandoning paper documentation is not without penalty. Large drawings can be tricky to follow on a small screen and can only be printed to A4 size by most people. Also, documents which are produced using colour look great on-screen, but may only be printed in black and white. High-resolution images may look great on paper, but you sometimes have to compress the files so much to achieve reasonable file sizes, that you detract from the original image quality.

That said, the advantages on providing on-screen documentation remain powerful, and many organisations now make it a primary requirement. Depending on your requirements, documentation can be prepared solely for on-screen use, or for use on screen and paper (the Adobe Acrobat format is a superb dual-format option).

We are happy to work with screen or paper versions.

Adobe Acrobat PDF

We first started using Adobe Acrobat in 1995, so we know how best to use it, both for simple things like leaflets up to complex things like major document libraries. We see ourselves as experts in the conversion of existing soft-copy documents into Acrobat PDF format; as well as the repurposing of old (paper-based) legacy systems.

We can create Acrobat PDF files for clients, and advise on how best to convert existing documents into a useful, accessible electronic library or archive.

Here are the reasons why we believe that Adobe Acrobat is such a great format:

  • You can compress PDF files to be surprisingly compact, albeit sometimes at the risk of a slight loss of image quality. They can also be read, emailed or downloaded by any-one - even if they do not have the original source application.
  • You can create secure, password-protected e-books and forms.
  • The PDF standard has backwards-compatibility, so your customers will be able to read older PDF files with future versions of the free Acrobat Reader software. Most electronic libraries know PDFs will be both version controlled and readable for at least the next 30 years.
  • You can create an Acrobat PDF file from ANY document. We can also place hand-written notes and sketches, photographs and printed materials, microfilm and even X-rays and other medical images; all with the option of password protection.
  • You can use Acrobat PDF files for archiving legacy paper-based documents. Re-purposing old paper records into electronic documents, saves money on storage, improves access to documents. It also means that staff no longer have to be located alongside the paperwork.
  • As the printing industry becomes fully digital, so the use of the Acrobat PDF format increases in scope. As well as providing cost and time savings, using Acrobat PDF files for printing is effectively the best way to be certain of using the correct fonts, images, graphics and layout.

On-Line Help

On-Line help has traditionally been seen as the tool which everyone went to when they got stuck, then could still not find the answer they were looking for! Whilst this was true in the early days of on-line WinHelp; modern content management systems can make this much better these days.

On-Line Help development tools are now very advanced, meaning you can almost always have a single source of information, which you then recompile into the appropriate format, depending on how you want to deliver it. It is possible to "click a button" and produce a set of content-sensitive on-line help; or a traditional user manual from the same set of data.

You can now use technologies such as re-usable content, so chunks are automatically copied into a process or a procedure whenever it is needed. This ability to re-use content can be a great benefit - especially if you are producing task-based instructions which have a lot of common steps or messages.

One of the old problems behind Windows Help format was the difficulty of producing conditional output. With a bit of setting up, you can produce a bespoke on-line help application, based on extracting relevant information from a much larger database.

A good help file must start with a total awareness of how a user will use the system. Because users come with different levels of skill and confidence, on-line help must provide different pathways to the information.

One common criticism of on-line help is that it is good at showing small chunks of information (i.e. single topics), but  poor at providing an overall picture of the system or user tasks. We can overcome this common problem, by creating Overview (task-based) sections or extra training files.

To prepare the most effective on-line help, we need to be involved during the development phase of the software. In this way, we can evaluate the on-line help as the structure of the software is put in place ideally in accordance with each major software build. Our appreciation of user and documentation ergonomics and your technical knowledge - partners in the development process mean we can learn from each another.

Our On-Line Help Experience
We have produced on-line files for a wide range of applications - some ranging from as little as eight screens, others as large as 500. The first help files we created ran under Windows 3.0!
Red House Consultancy Services Ltd
The Old Post Office, 10 Badger Lane, Blackshawhead, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire HX7 7JX.
Phone 07785 712 200Email
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