Thumbnail images of the possible reports?

Subject: Thumbnail images of the possible reports?
From: "Geoff Hart" <Geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Fri, 1 Oct 1999 14:06:09 -0400

Sean Brierley is working on documenting <<... a report
generator... The development team wants to include... in the
book, the first page of each of the 35 reports, so the customer
can browse the book and look at the reports to see what
information each includes... [and] determine whether a
customized report is really needed.>>

I'm not your customer. What would _they_ like? Speaking as
a hypothetical user of your product, I don't want to know
what each report looks like and what it includes: I want to tell
you what my needs are and ask whether any of the existing
reports will provide the information I need. And if none of
them will do it, then I need you to tell me to build the report
myself. That being the case, it might be far more efficient to
dispense with both the graphics and (as you mentioned later
in your original message) the bulleted lists and replace them
with something better. What might that "something better"
look like?

In print, a table would do the job nicely. (You could also use
a flowchart, but not everyone's comfortable with these
things.) List all the fields that could be included in the 35
reports down the margin, and the 35 report types across the
top of the page, and use checkmarks to show which reports
contain each field. That would produce a really messy,
multipage table, so you'd be wiser to break the 35 reports into
several categories; that would give you fewer report types
across the top of the table, and fewer fields down the side of
the table. Then use a table of contents to point readers to the
appropriate table (e.g., sales reports are on page 1, profit
reports are on page 2, human resources reports are on page 3,
etc.) Neat, sweet, petite, and complete... plus very easy to use.

You could use the same approach online, but why make the
users do the hard work of filtering through the tables when
this sort of thing is fairly easy to program? Let's dream in
technicolor for a moment, and assume you can actually ask
the developers to create a form that lists all the fields, and let
users check off the ones they need. Once they hit the "build a
report for me" button, the software will do one of two things:
open the predefined report that is closest to what the user
requested and add in the missing fields, or (if no report is
really close enough to make this worthwhile) tell the user that
none of the existing options really work, and that they're on
their own. In effect, why ask users to locate an appropriate
report type (a whole extra step) when they could instead
simply specify what they need to have reported, and let the
software determine whether this report already exists?

Apart from that, it sounds like your main concern involves
the difficulty of getting the images of the reports into
FrameMaker and producing manageable file sizes. That being
the case:

<<The reports are designed to print to a default printer at US-
letter size. I woulod capture each by printing to a PS file and
making a PDF, which I would subsequently import into

Sounds like you're going through too many hoops. Frame
should work just fine with TIFF or EPS files. So if you print
to a PS file, open the file in your favorite image editor, resize
it so you can fit (say) one or more legible report types per
page, and then convert it to a bitmap. Should cut the file size
drastically. If you need to put the resulting document on the
Web, you could then create a PDF from the frame file (or
perhaps one PDF per report type) and make those files
downloadable by those who are interested.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca (Pointe-Claire, Quebec)
"Perhaps there is something deep and profound behind all those sevens, something just calling out for us to discover it. But I
that it is only a pernicious, Pythagorean coincidence." George Miller, "The Magical Number Seven" (1956)

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