My 2 cents, as others have hinted, is that it depends on the
application. When I'm working on manuals by day, I love having a
searchable PDF when I need to track something down for reference. When
I'm assembling a gizmo at home, I want a hard copy. Chances are I won't
be working anywhere close to the computer. When I'm wearing my
journalist's hat and reporting on the doings of a local government or
school board, where meeting packets are increasingly coming in PDF
format, I want both -- a hard copy of at least the agenda and any major
discussion topics to refer to during the conversation, a PDF at home and
writing for when I have to navigate the packet and hunt down relevant


-----Original Message-----
[mailto:framers-bounces at] On Behalf Of
rinch at
Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2009 3:06 PM
To: framers at
Subject: Re: PDF Documentation


My experience is that my users prefer viewing PDFs, preferring PDF over

We shifted from delivering paper operating manuals to delivering PDFs on
CD a years ago. We were worried at first, but needlessly so. We even
offered to ship printed, bound hardcopy for free to any user that
requested it. Our users liked the change to PDF very much, and now
prefer PDFs.  I have not had a request for a hardcopy manual in years.
Actually, customers have told their reps how much they prefer the PDFs.

Our Service Department initially balked when we talked about doing away
with hardcopy Service Manuals, but once they started using the PDFs they
shifted quickly away from paper. I can put E size schematics in a PDF
(beautiful vector drawings created directly from our CAD software ---
for example, Service Technicians can print just a portion of the
schematic at whatever zoom level they want on standard 8 1/2 x 11 paper
or print the entire schematic on E size paper if the printer supports
it). The Service Technicians now have PDFs that contain all the Service
information they need, and they can always find a printer they can hook
into to print hardcopy, if need be. But, honestly, the standard for them
is to work from their laptop, viewing the PDF of the manual on screen.

If users are connected to a printer, they will print out pages of
interest to them. But, I've never heard of anyone actually printing a
whole PDF to hardcopy.

I do support a product line of hand held instruments used by HVAC
technicians; more of a main stream, over-the-counter product. For
example, when you call a HVAC technician to come service your central
air conditioning, they will probably have in their truck a small hand
held leak detector in a very tough case. We include small, short, paper
manuals for those hand held products. We do not supply a CD with the
manual on it to these people; they prefer paper (they can get their
manual in PDF off of our website, though). Honestly, these instruments
don't really need a manual anyway, and I suspect most of these paper
manuals are quickly lost once people figure out how to install the
batteries, how to set the sensitivity range, and turn it on/off. 

But, for my larger, more complicated instruments, PDF alone is just fine
and is actually preferred by my customers. These instruments often come
with specialized control software, and since those users are already
using computers, PDF is a natural fit. This is especially true for
instruments that are used in clean room environments. Years ago I
prepared very expensive clean room paper manuals. A PDF viewed on their
clean room computer is now the preferred choice by my users. These
instruments are not sold "over the counter". They are purchased with
Service Contracts and/or installation by trained technicians. We don't
even supply short Quick Use Guides or Getting Started Guides (like those
you get when you buy a new printer for your home computer) because only
trained technicians should install the instrument. The installation
parameters are in the Operating Manual PDF on the CD we supply, but in
most cases a trained technician, working from a Service Manual PDF, does
the actual instrument installation.

Your situation may be different than mine. Perhaps your products are
more "mainstream". But, for me, PDF works well for all but my hand held
products, and PDF is preferred over  hardcopy by all but my hand held
product users.


"Kelly McDaniel" <kmcdaniel at> Sent by:
framers-bounces at
01/22/2009 11:40 AM

<framers at>

PDF Documentation

Quick Survey:

Is it your experience that users view PDF documentation on their
computer display in preference to printing it for use?

If so, by what ratio of view:print? Opinions and SWAGs are fine.

Kelly M. McDaniel

Senior Technical Writer

Pavilion Technologies

A Rockwell Automation Company


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