10 reasons to stop printing manuals

Is your company still producing printed manuals? If so, there are many reasons to consider converting these documents to an electronic format. For example, portable devices such as tablet PCs and smart phones have made it possible for technicians to access electronic how-to guides in the field.

Here are a ten reasons technical writers should consider eliminating paper manuals.

No printing costs: Ok, this is a no-brainer. However, it is also the most likely to improve your department's budget. Also, you can save a lot of trees and help your company become more environmentally friendly.

Rapid distribution: A PDF can be emailed instantly to anyone, and so can links to documents stored on a server. Also, technologies such as RSS can be used to immediately alert users of updates.

Easier and cheaper updates: There's no need to reprint the guide if you need to correct mistakes or make changes. Just update the electronic version and publish it to a server.

Consolidation of end-user information libraries: All of your technical documents, as well as other information resources, can be accessed by end users from a single portable device.

Elimination of archive space: Department archives can be moved from storage vaults to servers or fixed media, saving both floor space and money.

On-the-fly translation: End users can use software to translate electronic documents into various languages; this is not possible for printed manuals.

Better navigation: Try implementing a full-text search on your printed manual. (If you figure out how, let me know.)

Improved accessibility: Screen readers and other accessibility tools only work on electronic documents. To a blind person, your printed manual is useless.

Improved sharing and cross-referencing: End users can easily link to electronic documents, even specific sections, from their internal processes and procedures.

Crowd-sourcing and collaboration: If a user spots inaccurate information in a printed manual, you'll likely never find out about it. However, online formats such as wikis allow users to suggest changes easily and contribute new content based on their best practices.

Of course, there will always be cases where printed instructions are best. For example, instructions for setting up residential Internet service would be useless on a server; the user would not be able to access those instructions. Think carefully about the needs of your users and choose the best format.

Related post: Writing user manuals | Tips and templates.