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Annotations to improve the using and the updating of digital technical publications


Technical documentation, be it of a product or of a plant, is more and more widely distributed and used in a digital form. Annotations are traditionally used in process of utilizing, critiquing and updating documents. Many researchers have highlighted the benefit of digital annotation functionalities. In this paper, we present lessons that have been drawn from operational field studies on the use of digital documentation in maintenance processes and we focus on business practices and on the need for annotation functionalities. We examine a document system, its structures and the impact of its digital form on the working methods within a global industrial system. Our theoretical framework allows identification of the specific pace and function for digital annotation beyond the new possibilities brought by the standardization of digital data formats.

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  1. 1.

    The organization structure used here follows the use by Bachimont and Crozat (2004). The authors use the term “organization structure” to denote the formal relations between the elements of the document system and thus the possible logical transformations of the document units according to their forms and independently of their content. This organization structure in this sense must not be confused with human organizational structures.

  2. 2.

    “La raison graphique” is the title in French of Goody (1977). The translation in English by “The graphic reason”  may be confusing. The term “reason”  explicitly refers to Kant (2001) and “graphic”  refers to the roots of the technology of writing. According to Goody (1987) “The physical basis of writing is clearly the same as drawing, engraving and painting—the so-called graphic arts. It depends ultimately on man’s ability to manipulate tools by means of his unique hand with its opposable thumb, coordinated of course by eye, ear and brain.” Goody (1977) shows the consequences of new communication means on the activities of human societies and analyses the “logic of writing”. Writing has brought a set of structures, concepts and procedures, a “reason”, which were not fully accessible to oral cultures. See Bachimont (2008) for a more detailed philosophical discussion.

  3. 3.

    SGML: Standardized Generalized Mark-up Language.


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We would like to thank the Commandant of the Aeronautical Group S. Fabre of the French Navy and all the users for their participation in the study on the Landivisiau Navy base and on the Mont-de-Marsan Air Base. We also thank Mr. M. Doméon of Dassault Aviation for the information provided on the S1000D specification and Mr. Y. Mahé from DEXIP for having giving us the opportunity to integrate a prototype of annotation functionalities into the digital repository of descriptive drawings of a gas terminal. We wish also to thank Professors J. F. Boujut of the INPG (Grenoble-France), E. Subrahmanian of Carnegie Mellon University and C. McMahon of the Bath University for their feedback on our research work and their encouragements.

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Correspondence to Yves Keraron.

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Keraron, Y., Bernard, A. & Bachimont, B. Annotations to improve the using and the updating of digital technical publications. Res Eng Design 20, 157–170 (2009).

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  • Graphical annotation
  • Digital environment
  • Maintenance documentation
  • Document structures