Re: Minimalist Writing

Subject: Re: Minimalist Writing
From: Dave Venzke <dven -at- CLEO -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 4 Nov 1993 17:07:00 EST

My understanding of minimalist writing may be rather limited,
but of what I know, this approach seems ideally suited for tutorials,
training materials, 'Quick Start' guides, and other forms of writing
that attempt to get the reader to some minimal level of proficiency
with a product or procedure in a relatively short span of time.

Minimalist writing cannot be used everywhere. And, in fact, should be
used in conjunction with other more traditional forms of documentation.

For instance, a non-minimalist Reference Guide document should contain
COMPLETE information for performing a task, maybe giving three or four
approaches that allow readers to arrive at the same destination. The
readers can try each one and settle on the one path they decide best suits
their given situation.

In a minimalist document, however, you'd tell the reader how to get to
that destination using one set of steps ... the reader learns one way of
performing an operation and is one step closer to profiency without
being bogged down with alternate routes and making decisions about which
one is best.

I have instituted some of these very techniques in a Quick Start Guide
for our data communication products. A number of people from both our
R&D and Customer Support departments were quite pleased with the result.
I have yet to hear what customers think, though.

I don't know how others feel about tutorial or quick start material,
but I dislike tutorial information which takes the form:

Preview: Here's what we're going to do in this section.
Procedure: Here's how to do it.
Review: Here's what we just told you.
Practice: And here's a few things you can try that we didn't describe.

I don't know where this tutorial form came from, but when I want to get
up to speed on a product or procedure I find going through this style of
tutorial is like wading upstream through a river of molasses, and I skip
all the preview, review and practice steps!

I think I've gone on long enough ...

Dave Venzke | All opinions expressed here are solely my
CLEO Communications | own. Any resemblance to opinions held by
3796 Plaza Drive | my employer is purely coincidental.
Ann Arbor MI 48108 |
(313) 662-2002, ext. 132 | Address: dven -at- cleo -dot- com

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