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Minimalism: Creating Manuals People Can Use

by Deborah Hartmann Preuss on Jun 19, 2006 |
Some Agile teams despair when faced with the task of getting technical writers on board with their new, emergent approach. But changes are afoot, and with more widespread application of practices like User Centered Design and single-sourcing, the philosophical gap may not be as wide as is feared. Structured writing, xml standards like DITA and CMS toolsets make it possible to approach documentation differently... although it's equally possible to use these new tools simply to entrench old bad habits.

JoAnn Hackos teaches a minimalistic approach to documentation.  Minimalism isn't only for simple products or targeted at beginners. A minimalist approach makes complex products easier to understand and gets critical information more directly into the hands of experts. She uses a hands-on approach: Students are encouraged to bring real work with them, as they will work on their own documents for more than 50 percent of class time.

People attending her two-day workshop, called Minimalism: Creating Manuals People Can Use, report they've reduced their documentation by 50 to 75 percent. The next session will take place near Philadephia July 11-12, 2006.

Dr. Hackos is the Director of the Center for Information-Development Management (CIDM), a membership organization focused on content-management and information-development best practices, and she has authored numerous books.

This online interview of Dr. Hackos is interesting: like Agile methods, her focus on user-centered design puts the customer first:
User-centered design is focused on the needs of the audience rather than the needs of the organization. It is really important in turning the direction of the web design effort from looking internally in an organization to looking externally and determining the needs of the community you want to influence.

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