Reading documents on-line

April 11, 2010

There’s so much information available these days. Trying to keep up to date on all the topics I’m interested in is impossible! To try to keep up to date I use quite a lot of on-line tools such as blogs, e-mail alerts, e-mail discussion groups and Twitter. These often lead me to documents that I want to read – articles, scientific papers, reviews, magazine articles and other miscellaneous documents – that are available on-line. At one time it would have been necessary to get hold of paper copies, but these days, trying to avoid the cost of printing off loads of paper (with associated environmental impacts) I often decide to either read the document on-line, or save it o my computer for reading on-screen at a convenient time.

One of the most frustrating things I find about on-line documents is that they are not always produced with on-line reading in mind. A particular hate is documents which are set out in 2 or more columns per page. Many documents made available in pdf format are set out like this. This is really not an appropriate format for on-screen reading. Given the landscape format of a computer screen one page of the document doesn’t fit on one screen. That means you have to read down one column, scroll down to read the bottom half and then scroll up to read the second column. This makes for an unpleasant reading experience. In reality many pdf documents are only suitable for reading after they’ve been printed off, defeating the object of making them available on-screen

Here’s an example, available on Scribd

View this document on Scribd

It’s a UK government document. Given that they’ve made it available on Scribd they must want people to be able to read it on-line, but the main body of the document has 2 columns making it a bit of a pain to read.

So a plea to people and organisations making documents available on-line – think about your formatting . Putting up an exact copy of a document formatted for print may not be the most appropriate approach.