Straight from the Source

This page contains information about our single source publishing solutions. Learn more about our translation services here.

Why PDF manuals don’t cut it

At least in technical communication and marketing, the heavy printed manual is a thing of the past. And even the venerable PDF format is not the right fit for most applications and audiences anymore.

Let us show you how to create, design, translate and publish web-first / mobile-first documentation for the 21st century.

On this page:

Good Company

9to5 Media Services is a Single Source Publishing and Language Service Provider.

We help our customers reach their audience by translating and publishing marketing literature, documentation (manuals, quick start guides, safety instructions…) and other content.

If you are in the IT, music, musical instrument or AV industry, you probably know…

From writing, translation, proofreading and typesetting to consulting and project management:

Over the last 30 years, we have completed numerous projects for all these (and quite a few other well-known) brands.

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What’s wrong with PDFs?

Chances are your company is making product manuals available for download on your website as PDFs, probably typeset using Adobe InDesign or an alternative professional publishing package.

So what’s wrong with that?

PDFs = fixed size / fixed ratio

PDF is a page-based format that was developed more than 30 years ago – in a world that was still dominated by paper, fax machines and snail mail; years before the spectacular rise of the World Wide Web. And even today, despite many revisions and additions, this hasn’t changed. PDFs are essentially “digital paper”.

A PDF always has a fixed physical size – be it A4, A5, US Letter – and a page ratio and orientation – portrait, landscape, square, 16:9…

But if you are a modern consumer products or service brand, this is not the world your users live in.

The real world…

…is dominated by smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, ultrabooks and – on the other end of the spectrum – high-end, high-resolution screens as seen e.g. on Apple’s iMac or Microsoft’s Surface Studio.

The resulting spectrum of display sizes and resolutions is astounding. A low-budget tablet usually has 800 × 1280 pixels. On a 5k monitor, it’s 15 times (5120 × 2880 = 14.745.600) that much.

No fixed-size document – no matter how beautiful and well-designed it may be, no matter how clever the designer uses typography – scales that much. Your users will have to zoom, pinch and move around a lot to read on whatever device they use. And they won’t enjoy it.

Try this on for size: The viewport of a classic smartphone and a 27″ screen. Even a 20 % change in font size can make users uncomfortable. This here is a 7000 % difference.

For a real-world example, simply access these two manuals from a smartphone or small tablet device. Both documents cover the same product. The difference in usability should be obvious.

SONY Wireless Noise Canceling Stereo Headset quick guide – PDF

Manual PDF on smartphone
Web manual on smartphone

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Web Manuals = New Cool

Who’s doing it?

The Big League:

And the Cool Kids:

Pretty much every web app or service under the sun has a help page (set) and/or a Zendesk site instead of a traditional manual.

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The Rise of Light(weight)

Few people would say that creating (or reading) manuals is “fun”. There is typically a complex, expensive toolset involved – often based on Adobe’s Creative Suite or Technical Suite. Creating or updating content often means having to bring in specialists: technical writers, graphic designers, translators and the web team, all using their own tools.

Things should be easier.

And for brands repurposing web technologies for their manuals, they are.

A Recipe For Modern Manuals

Advantages of Lightweight Markup Languages

Easy to Learn

Learning a lightweight markup language usually takes 1-2 hours. There are “dialects”, but the basic principles are always the same.

Tools Are Free / Affordable

Editors to create content and converters to turn it into common formats are available for Windows, macOS, iOS, Linux, web browsers…

Write, Edit and Translate Everywhere

Work online or offline.

Use a notebook or desktop computer, tablet or smartphone.

Hey, why not give your fingers a rest and use dictation?

Enjoy Maximum Flexibility

Good-Bye “Legacy Formats”

Documents formatted using lightweight markup languages are simply text documents. Which means they will still be readable and reusable in 2030, 2040…

There is no expiry date on the formats the web is based on.

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Modular Design

Manuals usually have reusable components (“boilerplate text”, warranty and safety sections). We can make your life easier (and save your money) by identifying and storing these components as such.

Scripts can be used to…

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Single Source Publishing done right

Once all templates have been designed, a modern markup converter can create all relevant formats from the same source, with zero or minimal adjustments:

…and many more, including:

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Let’s Talk!

Ready to bring your product manuals, quick start guides and FAQs into the 21st century? We’d love to hear from you!

Send a message to, and we’ll get in touch to discuss your project.

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