A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.


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Minimalism favors short, task-oriented content over long, narrative material. Often based upon minimalist theory, the 'Plain language' movement seeks to present information in a way that makes it as easy as possible for people to understand, most often by removing unnecessary complexity and specialized terminology from documents.



Achieving Minimalism through Interactive Multimedia  (link broken)   (PDF)

Use interactive multimedia with text-based online documentation to achieve the minimalist model pioneered by instructional design guru John Carroll. Non-linear modules of 'real' tasks help users get started fast, and quickly learn from any errors.

De Yoreo, Dave and Ben Kauffman. STC Proceedings (2004). Design>Multimedia>Interaction Design>Minimalism


Advocating Plain Language: Thom Haller Discusses The Need For Clarity  (link broken)

Plain language is clear, concise, and straightforward presentation of information. It is professional content structured to eliminate ambiguity and confusion in technical, government, and legal documents. Plain language allows readers to fully comprehend complex regulations, practices and instructions by requiring the language of bureaucracy to reflect the language of everyday speech.

Haller, Thom. Rockley Bulletin (2007). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>Minimalism


AECMA Simplified English   (PDF)

ASD-STE100 Simplified Technical English (formerly AECMA Simplified English) is a specification for writing aircraft documentation. The principles can be applied to all industry sectors. ASD-STE100 provides a set of writing rules and a dictionary of words and their meanings. It has a limited number of words; a limited number of clearly defined meanings for each word; a limited number of parts of speech for each word; a set of rules for writing text. This article outlines the standard, and shows how it helps to prevent ambiguity in text.

Unwalla, Mike. ISTC (2004). Articles>Writing>Minimalism>Controlled Vocabulary


An Interview with John Carroll

Interview with John Carroll, best‑known among technical communicators as “The Father of Minimalism,” a title he earned as a result of his popular book, The Nurnberg Funnel.

Bleiel, Nicky. Society for Technical Communication (2015). Articles>User Centered Design>Human Computer Interaction>Minimalism


Answering the Critics of Plain Language

Plain language has to do with clear and effective communication -- nothing more or less. It does, though, signify a new attitude and a fundamental change from past practices.

Kimble, Joseph. Plain Language Network (2003). Articles>Writing>Legal>Minimalism


Apple Help and John Carroll's Minimalism  (link broken)   (Word)

This report gives a brief overview of minimalism, a description of an Apple Computer documentation project, and a summary of my findings. It also provides some of my and my Apple colleagues' recommendations to improve both the user's experience and that of the instructional designers working to write Apple Help content. Through the course of this report, I will provide support for my hypotheses that (1) the current Apple Help model is not a minimalist help system, but that (2) users of most Apple software would not be well served by such a system anyway.

Tevenan, Matthew P. University of Washington-Seattle (2002). Books>Documentation>Help>Minimalism


An Application of the Principles of Minimalism to the Design of Human-Computer Interfaces  (link broken)   (PDF)

Minimalism in information design, specifically as applied to user tutorials and manuals, was introduced in the early 1980s through the work of Dr. John M. Carroll, then a cognitive psychologist at the IBM Watson Research Center. Since that time, theorists and practitioners have further elucidated the principles of minimalism and have attempted to apply it to a variety of situations in which people attempt to learn how to use a software application. Most recently, a new exposition of minimalist principles and practices was published by MIT Press. This work, Minimalism Beyond the Nurnberg Funnel, represents the work of leading theorists and practitioners in the field.

Hackos, JoAnn T. ComTech Services (1999). Design>User Interface>Human Computer Interaction>Minimalism


Applying Minimalist Principles, Strategies, and Techniques  (link broken)   (PDF)

People use documentation differently from what we might expect. They don’t like to read; instead they jump to a task with prior knowledge, and sometimes don’t realize they’ve made an error. Understanding how users learn and applying John Carroll’s minimalist principles will help provide solutions to this problem. Documentation that has been successfully planned and designed for minimalism may take longer to create than other manuals, but reaps the benefits of making users more productive and happy, while reducing support calls, maintenance, translation, and publishing costs. The key factors to a successful minimalist approach (or any good documentation design) are a keen understanding of your users, prototypes designed to match tasks relevant to users, and iterative testing to improve each draft.

Lester, Susan M.J. STC Proceedings (2000). Articles>TC>Writing>Minimalism


Arthur Levitt and the SEC: Promoting Plain English   (PDF)

Intercom's assistant editor profiles a recent recipient of STC's President's Award. The Securities and Exchange Commission was honored for requiring plain English in all disclosure statements filed with the SEC.

Nielan, Cate. Intercom (2000). Articles>TC>History>Minimalism


The Basics of Plain Language   (link broken)   (PowerPoint)

The purpose of this lesson is to introduce the basic concepts of plain language.

Impact Information (2006). Presentations>Writing>Minimalism


The Beauty of Simplicity

Marissa Mayer, who keeps Google's home page pure, understands that less is more. Other tech companies are starting to get it, too. Here's why making things simple is the new competitive advantage.

Tischler, Linda. Fast Company (2005). Articles>Usability>Web Design>Minimalism


Beyond Plain English

Plain English is good for increasing the quality of written documents. Unfortunately, it has limits in many technical situations. We need a special form of language, known as a controlled language, to overcome those limits. One particular controlled language is ASD Simplified Technical English.

Unwalla, Mike. TechScribe (2007). Articles>Writing>Minimalism>Controlled Vocabulary


But, Having Said That, ...

A persistent rule of thumb in the programming trade is the 80/20 rule: '80 percent of the useful work is performed by 20 percent of the code.' As with gas mileage, your performance statistics may vary, and given the mensurational vagaries of body parts such as thumbs (unless you take the French pouce as an exact nonmetric inch), you may prefer a 90/10 partition of labor. With some of the bloated code-generating meta-frameworks floating around, cynics have suggested a 99/1 rule—if you can locate that frantic 1 percent. Whatever the ratio, the concept has proved useful in performance tuning.

Kelly-Bootle, Stan. Queue (2006). Articles>Language>History>Minimalism


Calculating Documentation Cruft

It's easy to describe documentation cruft, and often easy to identify it once you see it, but it's hard to estimate how 'crufty' a document actually is. Furthermore, it's often hard to convince the creators of a document that 'their baby' isn't as beatiful as they believe it to be.

Ambler, Scott W. Dr. Dobb's (2007). Articles>Documentation>Assessment>Minimalism


Can You Design Your Way to a “No User Documentation” Approach?

For simple, commonly known actions in a closed environment, you probably can design your way to a “no user documentation” approach. Good design can also lead to less documentation. However, customers may expect to do more than that with a product and, in those situations, documentation can play a key role in meeting those expectations.

Pratt, Ellis. Cherryleaf (2009). Articles>Documentation>Usability>Minimalism


Can You Write in Plain English?  (link broken)

We always heard about the benefits of “Plain English”. But what exactly is plain English? How do we define it? If plain English is so important, why do insurance companies and lawyers use sentences and paragraphs so difficult to understand?

Biswas, Amal. AmalBiswas.com (2010). Articles>Business Communication>Writing>Minimalism


Clear as Mud: The Plot Thickens

A lot of the time, management-speak simply seems ridiculous. But campaigners for plain English say there is a more serious side to the issue.

BBC (1998). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>Minimalism


Clear Writing: Ten Principles of Clear Statement

If you want to test the clearness of your writing, you may wish to consider using a 'fog index.' Fog indexes measure the complexity of writing samples, and often provide a means of calculating the reading or educational level required to understand a particular passage. Some fog indexes are available as computer software programs, or you may do the calculations yourself.

University of Missouri (1973). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>Minimalism


Review: Clear, Brief and Bold: Will Strunk’s Legacy

A masterpiece of concision so tightly written that you almost don't need to read past the table of contents.

West, Mike. MBWest.com (2004). Articles>Reviews>Writing>Minimalism


Complexity and User Experience: Understanding Features in Terms of Complexity Instead of Functionality

The best products don’t focus on features, they focus on clarity. Problems should be fixed through simple solutions, something you don’t have to configure, maintain, control. The perfect solution needs to be so simple and transparent you forget it’s even there. However, elegantly minimal designs don’t happen by chance. They’re the result of difficult decisions. Whether in the ideation, designing, or the testing phases of projects, UX practitioners have a critical role in restraining the feature sets within our designs to reduce the complexity on projects.

Bolt, Jon. Boxes and Arrows (2012). Articles>User Experience>Usability>Minimalism


The Complexity of Simplicity

Though many business strategies and publications continue to trumpet the power of simplicity in the design of digital products, for lots of companies and product teams, simplicity doesn't come easy.

Wroblewski, Luke. UXmatters (2006). Design>Usability>Methods>Minimalism


Computer Gargon Baffles Users, Hinders Security

Computer jargon, a “tick box” culture and unimaginative advertising are discouraging Internet users from learning how to protect themselves online. Faced with such gobbledegook, many of the world’s nearly 2 billion Internet users conclude that security is for “experts“ and fail to take responsibility for the security of their own patch of cyberspace -- a potentially costly mistake.

Maclean, William. Globe and Mail, The (2010). Articles>TC>Security>Minimalism


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



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