RE: minimalist manuals

Subject: RE: minimalist manuals
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <SGallagher -at- akonix -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 17 Sep 2001 10:10:09 -0700

Joerg said:
> ...I'm currently writing my diploma thesis ... about
> minimalist manuals (the concept by John M. Carroll) compared
> to "ordinary" manuals...
> What I would like to know:
> 1) Is minimal design discussed in this list ? Is it a topic or not ?
> 2) Does anyone know of good examples of minimal manuals
> that can be bought or
> looked at online ?

Minimalism comes up as a topic here from time to time. But it's
been my experience that minimalism is generally misunderstood and
much maligned. Whenever information is missing or incomplete and
whenever a writing style becomes choppy and ungrammatical, someone
moans "d*** minimalism".

I'm not sure why minimalism hasn't been more globally embraced by
the TW community. Maybe because it began life as an instructional
design technique and the transition to user manual technique isn't
necessarily straight forward? Maybe because the technique was never
reduced to the "cookbook" formulas put forth by other techniques
such as information mapping? But I find that the myths that Carroll
tries to disspell in _Minimalism Beyond the NF_ are, for the most
part, alive and well and thriving in TWing.

OTOH, some minimalist techniques have been so thouroughly adopted
by TWs that they are thought of as "conventional wisdom" or "standard
practice". Witness Geoff Hart's response to a post asking how much
users need to be told:

<begin quote from Geoff>
The standard rule of thumb for such things is emphasize only one way to do
things in the text, but provide a list of shortcuts and alternatives
somewhere (typically in an appendix or a separate topic in the online help).
<end quote>

I'd wager that maybe 25% of us know that this is a minimalist technique.
(Well, more now that I've spilled the beans, huh???<g>).

I've been a proponent of minimalism since I first read an article by
John Carroll in the mid-80s. I was working as a trainer at the time and
embraced his work wholeheartedly. While I can't provide an online manual
sample, I'd be happy to try to dig something up if you'll contact me off

-Sue Gallagher
sgallagher -at- akonix -dot- com


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