A good data sheet allows the reader to accurately specify and purchase the exact product the reader needs without any other assistance. Even a barely acceptable data sheet should still allow the reader to make an intelligent decision as to whether or not the product should be further considered for a specific application. In general, data sheets are not read but are only referred to; engineers want/need hard facts about performance and specifications.
Saar agrees with Dewey’s analysis: manufacturers treat datasheets as marketing material; datasheets represent the face of the company; bad datasheets erode manufacturers’ credibility; engineers deeply familiar with the component are not significantly involved in authoring datasheets; and, technical documentation is a form of contract that ‘promises’ that the device will operate as described under specific conditions or limits (although in practice it’s almost impossible to prove who’s at fault).
Data sheets used to be printed in books. Now, we most often get them in PDF document form with little to suggest of a revision history or document quality.
In the 90s and 00s PDFs were the only way to create a largely consistent cross-platform viewing and printing experience. But PDFs are bloated, impossible to reliably parse, static, and a possible vector for malware. Oh, and they require the annoying little download-view-delete dance. Their historical advantages are meaningless today. We now have browser-based rich, dynamic, and lean content presentation that’s truly cross-platform. We can achieve a lot more visually and experientially with web content than we possibly could with PDFs (just look at the possibilities enabled by D3 and other data visualisation frameworks). PDFs are the past and rich web content is the present.
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