Standards for Online Communication: Publishing Information for the Internet/ World Wide Web/Help Systems/Corporate Intranets
By JoAnn T. Hackos and Dawn M. Stevens
B Y N A N C Y A
L L I S O N
|Good book, confusing title||When I first read the title of
this book, Standards for Online Communication, I envisioned something
like a case history presenting a corporate style sheet and explaining the
decisions that went into it.
But this book is something else, and it might better be titled A Comprehensive Introduction to Online Communication. It reviews most aspects of researching, designing, and implementing online documentation. The book applies to all online documents -- help systems, web pages, online manuals, intranet pages, and so on. And, as the authors state repeatedly, this book is an overview. They urge their readers to take courses and use other resources to learn about particular issues in detail.
|What this book will do for you||By reading this book, you will learn how to analyze your users' needs. You will discover the broad range of issues related to the design of online documents. And you will explore the many questions that arise as you write, test, and implement your document.|
|Strengths of this book||The book's great strength is in digging deeply into design and implementation questions. For example, a section called "Organizing your topics" contains twelve guidelines that explore how you might organize your information. The chapter on hypertext links contains 36 guidelines. This thorough exploration of the facets of online documentation is valuable for novice writers as well as for more experienced ones. It can also go far to educate managers and other interested parties.|
|Structure of the book||Each chapter contains conceptual
explanations followed by guidelines. The guidelines are also listed concisely
in Appendix A, providing a useful planning tool. Each chapter ends with
a bibliography for further reading.
A CD-ROM presents the book in online format. Written in WinHelp, the online version includes a synchronous table of contents, but few other bells or whistles. Figures are presented in secondary windows so that you do not have to scroll between a figure and its text description. The CD-ROM presents a missed opportunity: it could have formed the basis of a useful discussion about single-sourcing.
|A few drawbacks||The book omits two topics of
great interest to online writers: single-sourcing, as mentioned previously,
and the technical/signoff review process. Both involve fairly complex choices.
Online writers would certainly benefit if Hackos and Stevens explored these
topics with their customary thoroughness.
The book also contains a few discussions that seem somewhat unrealistic. The sections about analyzing users' needs and testing the online document state that these activities are desirable. But the discussions lack supporting citations that could help a writer convince a skeptical manager to allocate the necessary resources. And the theory of Stages of Use (levels of user sophistication), explained in Chapter 3, does not seem to take learning styles into account, or to distinguish between software knowledge and subject matter knowledge.
In general, the lack of supporting citations weakens the book. (A similar book, William Horton's Designing and Writing Online Documentation has a broad approach but also provides extensive footnotes.)
The index contains terminology used in the text, but it does not contain likely synonyms. For example, legacy documents is listed, but such related phrases as converting print documents to hypertext or print manuals, converting to hypertext, are absent.
|Buy this book?||Yes, if you want a thorough and knowledgeable introduction to most aspects of planning, creating, and implementing online documentation. This book may also be a useful tool for educating management about what it takes to design a usable, effective online document.|
Nancy Allison is a freelance technical writer specializing in online help. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright Nancy Allison 1999 submitted to the STC for use in Hyperviews:Online.
Volume 2, # 3