Documentation: Moving from Paper to Pixels
By Susan Hendley
Part of the reason for this transition is the growth of
personal computers (PC’s) and the Internet. People are using
computers and the Internet more and more to communicate with
coworkers or friends, to type reports, and to handle complex
business functions, such as accounting and order placement. This
expanded use of computers creates a new medium for presenting
In addition to the proliferation of PC’s, online
documentation has evolved because it is cheaper for companies to
produce. Online documents do not have the expensive printing and
binding costs associated with printed documents (Wentorf, 2001). In
addition, companies save money because there are no shipping costs.
Online documents are also easier to update because they can be
revised later in the development process (Wentorf, 2001). Since
these documents do not have to be printed, they can be developed at
the same time as the product. In contrast, printed documents must be
completed before a product is released because they need extra time
to be printed.
This change in medium not only benefits developers, but
also users of documentation. According to Wentorf (2001), online
documentation has many benefits that include:
Online search capabilities: This allows users to
find information through key word searches.
With all of these advantages to both the users and developers of
software documentation, one might think that all forms of
documentation are being turned into online documents; however, this
is not happening yet. According to William Horton (as cited in
Jones, 1997) some documents do not work well online. These include
documents that require detailed reading, legal documents, and
documents that are needed away from the computer.
Because of this, it is unclear if we will ever become a
truly “paperless society.” Online documents do have new features
that paper documents could never provide; however, there is still a
market for paper documents. Many people are used to working with
paper documents so online documents may seem foreign or difficult to
use. As people become more accustomed to online documents and as
computer technology continues to evolve more documentation may be
created for online use. For now, it seems online documents will
continue to proliferate the documentation field, but they will not
make paper documents obsolete in the near future.