Re: What exactly is minimalist documentation?

Subject: Re: What exactly is minimalist documentation?
From: Walt Tucker <walt_tucker -at- MENTORG -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 29 Oct 1997 14:26:47 -0800

Maia,

This reply is probably coming in too late for your immediate need. I gave
a related talk about minimalist documentation at the STC conference in
1996. A companion article appeared in the April 1996 Intercom.

I say "related" because my talk was actually about reducing the size of
our documentation set to the minimum amount needed to serve customer
requirements. Over a period of time, our documentation set had grown
somewhat bloated, making it hard for customers to locate the information
that they needed. I don't think I ever used the actual term "minimalist"
in my talk, though. See the Intercom article for complete details.

The advantages of minimalist documentation to my company, as stated in
the closing paragraph of my article, were as follows:

"The reduction in the quantity of paper documentation needed to
support the software release translated into an approximate savings
to the company of $50,000. Not only did Mentor Graphics save money,
but customers can now find solutions to problems quicker, perform the
necessary procedures to keep their users productive, and find it easier
to successfully install and manage their Mentor Graphics software.
Customers are happy, and so is Mentor Graphics."

The key to creating good minimalist documentation is doing the research
to understand exactly what customers want and then explore the best methods
to get that information to them. In some cases, the best method to
get information to customers might include other vehicles beside just
documentation. To often we, as writers, tend to take a "shotgun" approach
with our documentation, throwing everything into the pot just because
someone, somewhere, someday, might require the information. One of my
premises for creating minimalist documentation is, if in your analysis of
customer needs you can't build a case for the including information in
the manual, get rid of it.

Of course, the better and more intuitive the user interface, the less
documentation is necessary. Becoming a "customer advocate" among your
engineering group is among one of the paths to minimalist documentation. :-)

Hope this helps.

-- Walt Tucker
Senior Technical Writer
Mentor Graphics Corporation
Wilsonville, Oregon

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