Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Problem with Your Electronic Documents

The other week I told you the problem with your tri-fold brochures. That’s just symptomatic of a larger issue with electronic documents posted to the web.

With the advent of desktop publishing we could make documents look the way we wanted. Now, with the web, we share the electronic documents. However, we’re still stuck with considering only how they look.

That’s the issue.

People continue to create documents with the idea that they're going to be printed and don't consider the formatting that goes into them and how this could impact the many other ways that people might interact with them electronically.  For example, people now might be as likely to read your document on devices such as through their phone, tablet or using assistive technologies such as screen readers.

I'm frequently called on to consult on the accessibility of documents for different agencies.   Accessibility is the ability for a document to be accessed or read by someone using assistive technology such as software which will read a document to a person with a disability.   Often times the problems with documents are fairly simple matters, but there are so many of them that it can seem overwhelming. 

Starting out with the correct formatting  and thinking about the various ways that your document will be used is important.  Today, we should never think of a document we create on a computer as only a printed document.   So often these documents will be shared electronically either as handouts, download, accommodations and frequently on the web.   For that reason, attending to formatting and the look of a document is imperative.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting a series of articles on different considerations when creating documents.  These will focus on visual elements as well as formatting, background, alternative formats and how we share documents.   Where available and appropriate, I'll be drawing on references from the webdesign community, advocacy groups and other resources.  For example World Wide Web Consortium is a group of individuals and organizations who work together to develop web standards.  Many of these same standards have applicability to other documentation and how it is shared electronically. 

I'd welcome questions in the comments or leave me a voice mail with your question at 207.619.2342 and I'll try to answer it.

I hope it will give you some tips and tricks to make your work more efficient and accessible. 

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