Minimalism: Do more, read less, help users with errors

John Carroll is the father of minimalism, an instructional design theory, which has been widely applied to technical communication of all kinds.

Having read both of Carroll’s books on the subject (The Nurnberg Funnel: Designing minimalist instruction for practical computer skill (1990) and Minimalism beyond “The Nurnberg Funnel”, I have summarized the core minimalism principles this way. Users want to:

  1. Do more
  2. Read less
  3. Get help with errors

To help our users accomplish these goals, we really have to know our users. This is a common theme to many of my blog posts, that is in support of any other guidelines or principles we might take from Carroll’s minimalism theory. To help our users do more, read less, and get past any errors, our minimal, focused content must encourage action and exploration.

To know what is necessary, what is useful, or what needs to be done, we must know our users. Every choice we make – from individual words, to the design of web pages, to architecting our content – must be made with a clear knowledge of our users. Every theory or guideline really does begin with knowing our users. Minimalist documentation is not only about what to include or exclude, but it is also about ensuring that what you do include is the most appropriate content for your users. Minimalist writing does not always mean using fewer words—it means using just the right words at the right time.

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