Re: What exactly is minimalist documentation?

Subject: Re: What exactly is minimalist documentation?
From: "Eric J. Ray" <ejray -at- RAYCOMM -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 27 Oct 1997 14:30:20 -0700

>The book is called "The Nurnberg Funnel: Designing Minimalist
>Instruction for Practical Computer Skill." ISBN: 0-262-03163-9

And the title of the book (subtitle, actually) is the key
aspect that many people overlook. Carroll provides good
information about developing INSTRUCTIONAL text
with a minimalist philosophy, but Carroll et al weren't
concentrating on economic concerns (saving paper, etc.),
nor were they examining how minimalist documentation
relates to reference or "user guide" type information.

While there's certainly an argument to make for smaller
doc sets and less comprehensive "let me tell you how this
works" documentation, the minimalist studies,
research, and data do NOT speak to developing "how to"

The question to ask yourself before you dive into
the real minimalist school is "does my audience
want/need to _learn" this stuff, or should they
refer to the docs, do what they need to do, and get out.

My own two cents ('cause knee-jerk minimalism
bugs me and I spent a lot of time with Carroll's
research last year) is that anyone considering minimalist
approaches should _carefully_ read Carroll's works (in
the original--not someone else's synopsis)
with an academically critical eye and see if it really applies
to their situation. While it's a model of effective
application of adult learning theory--focusing heavily
on error recovery and acquiring knowledge--it's
not appropriate in many situations of technical writing.

Second, I fundamentally question the applicability
of Carroll's studies (ca 1989-91) to most modern
computer users. Much of the study focuses on learning
to use software, but that was back in the mostly
pre-Windows days when each application was different.
Now, if you can do Windows, the only learning
involved is about which commands lurk where.
Personally, I don't think it would be nearly as
effective applied to _using_ application software
today as it was to _learning_ interfaces back then.

Comments or critiques welcome.


Eric J. Ray ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com
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