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Monday, 01-Oct-01 12:34:41 EST Space How to publish documents online
internet resources
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Publishing online

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This screen aims to provide a basic introduction to presenting existing paper-based documents on the Web. For a complete guide to building a website have a look at our Internet Development Guides.

Screen based text is different to print
Presenting documents online is different from presenting them in print. People use screen-based text differently from print-based text, and screen-based text is more difficult to read than print-based. On screen people tend to scan and search for keywords; they want to find content quickly. They tend not to browse in the leisurely fashion they might in a bookshop.

Our style guide recommendation
One of the most popular and valuable style guides for Web-based material is Patrick Lynch and Sarah Horton's
Yale C/AIM Web Style Guide. Visit the Guide for a wealth of information on publishing on the World Wide Web.

Organisations need to modify material for the Web
Organisations often require reports and other documentation that already exist in a paper-based form transferred to the Web, to provide wider and easier access to the material for the intended users.

Rather than merely transferring the document from word processor files to the hypertext markup language (HTML) files needed for World Wide Web delivery, consideration should be given to the differences between the two media (print and Web) and the material modified accordingly.

  • Adobe Acrobat for faithful reproduction
    If faithful reproduction is required, then about the only real option at the moment is to create portable document format (.PDF) files using Adobe's Acrobat software: this can be used to create a facsimile of the original document, maintaining fonts, layout and graphics, by converting word processor files into electronic files that can be read on screen by users with Adobe's free Acrobat reader software. The .PDF files can also be printed out using the same software to give the user a paper facsimile of the original document.
  • HTML conversion
    Converting existing documents from word processor formats to HTML is technically a simple process. There is a number of ways of doing this: Yahoo!, for example, has a list of links to tools for HTML conversion which is useful for finding further information.

There is however a number of things to consider before simply saving existing word processing or page layout documents in HTML.

In planning, decisions should be made early on in the development process for a document regarding the form or forms of delivery, and it may be necessary to create a number of different versions of the document for delivery through different media.

Also ensure at this early stage that you get all necessary copyright clearances for the various elements in the document as these may well be quite different from clearances required to reproduce these elements in print.

Writing for the World Wide Web
To make reading and comprehension easy, screens need to use less text than the printed page, and the text should be balanced with graphics and white space.

Since people read screens in a different way to the way they read a paper page, documents destined for the screen should be more concise and structured than the printed alternative. People are more likely to print out a screen that is more than half a page long and read it on paper, rather than read it on screen.

The World Wide Web is a screen-based medium where individual Web screens are held as files on a server. Depending on the length of the original publication, files may be very large, and therefore take a long time to download and display. Long documents might be difficult for users to navigate around and find sections of interest to them.

Break long documents down into individual files that each represent a screen of information. A good rule of thumb is that if a screen contains more than about 20 kb of text it is probably too long. A screen that contains more than about 50 kb overall of text and graphics is also probably too long: it will take too long to download and will be confusing to read on the screen. These are rules of thumb only and each page or file should be considered on its merits.

Electronic documents
Online documents can be searched, indexed and hyperlinked. This gives online documents advantages over printed documents, especially if documents are designed for reference or review rather than designed to be read from start to finish.

To realise these benefits, you will need to ensure that your Web server supports searching, that the documents are properly indexed and the hyperlinks cross-referencing contents list, heading and so on are in place when the document is served to a user.

Hypertext links are "hot" links from one part of a document to somewhere else in the same document, to another document or section of a document on the same server or anywhere on the World Wide Web.

Hypertext links make it possible to display information differently in a HTML document to how it might be displayed in a printed document. For example, in a HTML document footnotes and references can be hypertext links to the actual content referred to. This content can be stored on any computer with an Internet connection.

Additional explanations, definitions, diagrams, details of graphics and other additional material can be linked easily to any part of the HTML page, even linked to original source material if the material is on the World Wide Web.

Contents lists and indexes can be "hot" linked directly to the relevant chapter or item.

Care must be taken with hypertext links. Too many will render a screen difficult to read and confusing, and when users follow the links they may get "lost" in a document, not knowing where they are or being unable to get back to where they were before following a link.

As a Web author you must make sure your users know where they are in your site - for example, display screen names, page numbers and ranges, provide navigation buttons, menus, tables of contents, and links to major features in your documents.

You must provide enough information on each screen so that if a user came directly to that screen from another site they would know where they were and be able to navigate around both your document and your site.

Provide a sitemap one click away from any screen to take users to an overall view of the document so they can easily return to known territory at any time they feel lost. A sitemap also gives users a sense of the scope of the document, the electronic equivalent to gauging the size of a printed document by just looking at it and flicking through it.

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