A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication (and technical writing).

Articles>Writing>Technical Writing>Minimalism

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Conciseness is Key to Good Technical Documentation

One of the most important and difficult parts of technical documentation concerns writing in a concise manner. Technical writing is different than writing fiction or magazine articles, where a mood may be set or--in some cases--where space must be filled. (People seldom buy thin books.)

Kurtus, Ron. School for Champions (2005). Articles>Document Design>Technical Writing>Minimalism


A Critical Assessment of the Minimalist Approach to Documentation  (link broken)

Carroll's (1991) minimal manual has been considered an important advance in teaching first-time users the basics of computer programs. Unfortunately, it is not very clear what minimalism really means. Practitioners, for example, will find it difficult to create their own minimal manual because the principles of minimalism have not been described in enough detail (see Horn, 1992; Tripp, 1990). It is also not yet settled that a minimalist approach is the most effective one because critical experiments have hardly been conducted. This study therefore closely examines the minimalist principles and claims. This paper describes the basic ideas of minimalism, its design principles and how they can be operationalized. A parallel is drawn between a minimalist and constructivist perspective on learning and instruction. Like minimalism, constructivism places a high value on experience-based learning in context-rich environments. Like minimalism, it stresses the need to capitalize on the learner's prior knowledge as much as possible. And like minimalism, constructivists urge learners to follow their own plans and goals, to make inferences, and to abstract principles from what they experience (see Duffy & Jonassen, 1991, 1992). An experiment is reported that examines the claims of minimalism. Strong and significant gains on several factors were found, all favoring the minimal manual over a control (conventional) manual. The discussion points to several issues that minimalism has yet to address.

van der Meij, Hans. ACM SIGDOC (1998). Articles>Documentation>Technical Writing>Minimalism


Cut, Cut, Cut your Content and Procedures

Sure. We’ve been reducing word count in procedures for some time. It’s time to do more, however. As noted in an earlier post, we have to think mobile. Think small screens and small devices. Screen real estate will be at a premium.

Norris, Julie. 2moro Docs (2009). Articles>Documentation>Technical Writing>Minimalism


Deadwood Phrases

Deadwood phrases are found in all types of writing. In technical writing they are to be avoided at all costs as documentation needs to be crisp, concise and accurate.

Klariti. Articles>Writing>Technical Writing>Minimalism


Downsizing Documentation: Meeting the Challenge  (link broken)   (PDF)

The redesign of the Microsoft Windows operating system along with a shrinking page count and Help file-size allocation, presented Windows User Education with a unique opportunity. We not only redesigned our entire documentation model, we also changed and improved our authoring tools. And, along the way, we changed how we did our work.

Bloch, Peggy, Phyllis Levy, Kimberly A. Parris and Gayle Picken. STC Proceedings (1995). Articles>Documentation>Technical Writing>Minimalism


Duct Tape Technical Writers

In reality, the user just wants a brief, clear explanation of a concept or task. The user will glance and skim — reading behaviors hardly worthy of the elitist grammarian who argues the finer points of “which” versus “that” in restrictive clauses.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2009). Articles>Document Design>Technical Writing>Minimalism


Get Rid of the Babble

Try to rid your writing, especially business writing, of unnecessary words. They take up space, look impressive only to naive readers, and say nothing.

Leigh, Heather. Crazy for Words (2007). Articles>Writing>Technical Writing>Minimalism


Going a Bit Too Minimal

Aaron and I advocate minimalism in documentation. Our definition of minimalism differs slightly from how some people may define the term, and we take some heat for it. But no matter how you define it, the aim of minimalist doucmentation is always the same. To give user the information they need in the most concise, readable, and accessible way.

Nesbitt, Scott. Communications from DMN (2010). Articles>Documentation>Technical Writing>Minimalism


High Tech Humor

The remarkable growth of the information technology industry has created a tremendous opportunity for people with skill putting words on paper. Technical writers, once a rare and highly skilled position, are now as common as fruit flies—though they take up a lot more space. Yet the pay is pretty good considering how little work they actually do, so young English-major weenies desperate for employment continue to swarm around IT companies, hoping for a bit of rotting fru—er, looking for a plum position.

PlainLanguage.gov (2005). Articles>Writing>Technical Writing>Minimalism


Minimal Procedure Content: Reasoning

The procedure I wrote about creating a Twitter list uses abbreviated content. This post describes the reasoning behind and decisions made in writing the topic.

Norris, Julie. 2moroDocs (2009). Articles>Documentation>Technical Writing>Minimalism


Minimizing Documentation

Is less always more? I’m not sure. But if Apple’s minimalistic designs are any indicator of trends, minimalism in documentation is something to pay attention to. Here are five ideas for minimizing documentation.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2009). Articles>Documentation>Technical Writing>Minimalism


Needless to Say

The needless repetition of words and the repeating of ideas is everywhere - in newspapers, books, magazines, e-mails, television, and even in conversation. They’re called redundancies and the English language is full of them. In fact, research shows that about 50 percent of English is redundant.

Dowling, Dave. Indus (2003). Articles>Writing>Technical Writing>Minimalism


Review: The Nurnberg Funnel by John M. Carroll

In the Nurnberg Funnel: Designing Minimalist Instruction, John Carroll presents some helpful ideas based on some useful research on how the initial self-instruction (often called 'tutorials') should be developed and written.

Horn, Robert E. DITA Users (1999). Articles>Reviews>Technical Writing>Minimalism


Plain English

According to Plain English Campaign (www.plainenglish.co.uk), plain English is "… something that the intended audience can read, understand and act upon the first time they read it. Plain English takes into account design and layout as well as language." Many organisations have found that plain English brings commercial advantages.

Unwalla, Mike. TechScribe (2008). Articles>Writing>Technical Writing>Minimalism


Reducing Complexity in Documentation  (link broken)   (PDF)

With more emphasis being placed on customer satisfaction, technical writers need to focus on information strategies that will lead to happier customers. The complexity of the information is one common complaint of customers. Writers need to understand what customers think is complex. Then, writers need to develop strategies to combat these complexities.

Roscoe-Iverson, Ellen. STC Proceedings (1993). Articles>Documentation>Technical Writing>Minimalism


Removing Unnecessary Words

Using an extended example, this article shows how it is possible to reduce the number of words in a text and at the same time increase readability.

Unwalla, Mike. TechScribe (2003). Articles>Writing>Technical Writing>Minimalism


Simplified Technical English: STC Should Take the Lead   (PDF)

Proposes that STC become involved in brainstorming ideas about Simplified Technical English, thus leading the way for clear, correct documentation.

Lester, Larry. Intercom (2006). Articles>Writing>Technical Writing>Minimalism


Sometimes, Simple is the Way to Go

I’m advocating boiling the documentation down to the essentials. Remove any superfluous material. Tell the user how to do things with a piece of software or a gadget, not what that something can do. You might wind up with documentation that’s just a set of procedures connected together by linking material and cross references. Don’t bog them down with what’s not necessary for them to get things done in a fast and efficient way.

Nesbitt, Scott. Communications from DMN (2009). Articles>Documentation>Technical Writing>Minimalism


Style That Economizes Mental Energy  (link broken)   (PDF)

Perhaps the most important feature of good writing style for scientific and technical communication is economy: writing that reduces the mental labor of the reader or user. I describe the principle of "conservation of mental energy" as developed by Herbert Spencer and extended by later studies in readability and psycholinguistics. Stylistic techniques that make reading easier have powerful application to the prose crafting that sci/tech communicators do every day. The idea of conserving mental energy, or being "efficient" in communication, gives us a touchstone for thinking about good style and a rationale for explaining why it's valuable.

Hirst, Russel. STC Proceedings (2004). Articles>Writing>Technical Writing>Minimalism


The Zen of Minimalism: Designing a Top-of-Class Manual for Beginners and Advanced Users

Can using minimalist documentation improve accuracy and learning speed for beginners as well as for advanced users? I tested this question using Microsoft Access for Windows 95 ® and three different third-party manuals explaining this product. Then I set up three main tasks for the user in a usability test. For each task, I provided the task description in blue type, and then copied the appropriate documentation in black. Documentation for each of the three tasks was reprinted from a different book.

Stieren, Carl. Simware (1998). Articles>Documentation>Technical Writing>Minimalism

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