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Editing online materials

Presented by Jean Hollis Weber
to the Australian Society for Technical Communication (NSW) Conference, 2 November 1996

Terminology: Online

Editing online materials

Editing anything that is intended to be read on a computer rather than (or in addition to) being read on a paper copy.

Online (on screen) editing

Making changes to a computer file, rather than marking changes on paper copy for someone else to type in.

Online materials (examples)

  • Online help, computer-based training (CBT), electronic performance support (EPS)
  • CD-ROM (e.g. encyclopedias)
  • World Wide Web pages
  • Multimedia (including kiosks)
  • Any other hypertext document

Knowledge and skills needed

  • The usual technical editing skills
  • An understanding of the principles of hypertext documents or multimedia
  • Ability to conceptualise material in a new format
  • An understanding of the limitations and capabilities of the tools used to create and display the materials

Editorial considerations

  • Hypertext links
  • Layout, fonts, white space: how much control do you have
  • Chunking topics to fit a screen
  • Tables, illustrations, lists, indented: problems and considerations
  • Making changes: how, who, when

Hypertext links – questions to ask

  • Too many, too few, or just right?
  • Are the links helpful, logical, trivial, confusing?
  • Is the type (pop-up, part-screen, full-screen, animated etc) appropriate?
  • If a screen is called from more than one link, does it always make sense?

Where do the links go?

  • One to many
  • Many to one
  • Many to many

Control of layout

  • How much can the users change? Fonts? Size of display window?
  • How much can you control?
  • How much should you control?

Chunking topics

  • Keep topics short to minimise scrolling
  • Use hypertext links to provide
    • Definitions
    • Details
    • Alternatives
    • Access to related information
    • What to do if something doesn’t work

Tables, illustrations, lists, indented

  • May need to revise to minimise scrolling
  • Is the illustration helpful, or just a pretty picture?
  • Consider download time
  • Indented materials and lists may not display correctly on all systems; simplify
  • Indents may cause too-narrow columns

Check it online

  • Some things you can’t check on hard copy:
    • Do the links work?
    • Topic length okay?
    • Indexing and search facilities okay?
    • Illustrations etc display okay?
  • Best to check on several systems if possible.

Marking changes

  • May need hard copy:
    • To mark changes
    • To spot consistency problems
    • To make sure you haven’t missed any screens
  • If you have the right tools, you may be able to mark the changes online as you go.

Last updated 23 November 1998