Thursday, February 26, 2009

Stop that PDF:5 Tips on Deciding What's Worth Reading

If you're like me, you get dozens of offers for free downloads in your e-mail everyday. In today's troubled economy, it's no surprise that companies from public relations to marketing, to green businesses, to grocery stores, to clothing and drug stores and get the idea, just about everyone is looking for ways to be heard, including of course, bloggers like me. Free PDFs and e-books seem to be the latest offer du jour, and I have seen all kinds of variations on a theme, from very simple Word documents converted to PDFs that aren't particularly interesting, to fancier documents with a fair amount of graphics. No matter what they look like, the real point is: how good is the information and is it worth your time? Here's how I decide:
  1. Review the descriptive blurb: every download has a description that goes along with it which gives you a rough idea of the publication. If it doesn't immediately spark your interest or isn't relative to anything you're currently doing, move on. If it does, go ahead and download, but review a few more criteria...
  2. Review the table of contents: If the document has a good variety of topics, or explores one topic well, it's a keeper, and possibly something you will pass along to others. Beware of reconstituted copy that may come from somewhere else. It's not that there's anything wrong with it, but it's not going to be original. You may, however, still find valuable information.
  3. Check for pitches: Is the document mostly a lot of fluff designed to get you to buy something? Many white papers, for example, include a call to action at the end, which frequently involves signing up for a webinar or newsletter, a phone consult, a coupon or discount book offer, etc. There's nothing wrong with this either, but you want to make sure you are getting good information first, and the document isn't just a sales pitch.
  4. Consider the length...Are 10 Pages Better Than 50?: I have downloaded items from 1 page to over 100, but generally I like 12-20 pages. If it is shorter, I figure I'm not going to get much good information, and too long I figure I will never read it. I keep a folder for all downloads and set aside one day a week to read what I have saved. I rarely read a download at the time I download it, since I'm usually between things, but I definitely skim.
  5. Dynamic graphics help: I used to feel like I didn't care about graphic that much, but an e-book I discovered over the holidays changed my thinking. Simplify the Holidays, by a sustainable organization called the New American Dream, is a beautiful booklet I am definitely keeping throughout the year. The text is simple and the graphics are beautiful.
Do you have a favorite e-book, and what are your criteria for the download test?

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