Top Seven Guidelines for Minimalist Writing

By Aparna Mudaliar

As technical writers, we are always curious about how useful our documents are to our customers. We rarely miss an opportunity to seek feedback from our customers, whether internal or external. One such golden opportunity knocked at my desk when a bunch of new developers were assigned to our product. Instantly, I assured them that the User Guide will help them get started with our product. Eventually, I interviewed them for their feedback. Their valuable feedback helped me restructure the User Guide and remove all redundant information.

In retrospect, I thought it is worthwhile to document my findings as ready-to-use guidelines. I realized that the guidelines that I had compiled echoed the best practices of minimalist writing. These guidelines will help to implement minimalist writing without extensive rewriting and restructuring. Anyone can use these guidelines in any order and in a manner that is appropriate for your documents.

An Overview of the Minimalist Writing Approach


Step 1: Encompass Introduction into a Single Chapter

The first section of our documents typically contains a set of introductory chapters. In these chapters, we include detailed information about the product, user interface, and certain common tasks. There is ample scope to rework on these chapters.


This guideline helps users perform their tasks right away rather than read through the detailed introduction. Otherwise, they might eventually lose interest in the document.

The Minimalistic Approach
  • Answer a simple question, “Do the users need all this information to get started with the product?”
  • Based on your answer, categorize your topics as Most significant, Significant, and Insignificant.
  • Remove the topics that fall into the Insignificant If this information is available on your product page, you can include this URL in your document.
  • Combine the Most significant and Significant topics into a single Getting Started

 Step 2: Focus on Tasks First and Concepts Later

Before users start performing a task, we want to make sure that they know what they are heading for. In this linear-reading approach, we tend to include end-to-end conceptual information. This information can be important. However, users might not need it immediately to complete the task at hand.


When following this guideline, you include just-enough conceptual information that the users need to accomplish their task.

The Minimalistic Approach
  • Look for concept signifiers that you can move to the end of task, topic, section, or chapter. For example, these signifiers contain the following keywords: Overview, Introduction, Understanding, and How Does Something Work.
  • Restructure your document, so that the task-oriented topics are in the top order, followed by the conceptual topics.
  • Determine whether any of the conceptual topics can be a part of an appendix.

 Step 3: Eliminate Unnecessary Screenshots

We tend to include a screenshot for almost each step that a user performs. But, users might just ignore these screenshots because most of the time they might simultaneously be working with your product. Besides, unnecessary screenshots just add to the file size.


When inserting screenshots sparingly, the page count reduces. As a result, users get a fairly good idea about how much content they have to read.

The Minimalistic Approach
  • Include only those screenshots that give a result of a task.
  • Common tasks such as add, save, or delete information or menu navigation do not need any supporting screenshots.
  • If documenting a task that users perform by using a wizard, you can eliminate the screenshots.

 Step 4: Do Not Document Industry Standard Buttons or Tasks

Most of the users are well-versed with the industry standard User Interface (UI) elements. So, you can remove information that they would certainly know.


When implementing this guideline, your focus automatically shifts to documenting what users do not know rather than what they might know.

The Minimalistic Approach

Identify UI elements and common tasks that do not need any explanation. You can remove them from your documentation unless they result into an unexpected behavior. For example, here is a list of items that you do not need to document:

  • Menus
  • Buttons or icons such as Help
  • Common tasks such as open, save, and delete
  • Common login procedures

 Step 5: Insert References for Explanatory Text

Too much of conceptual information in the middle of a task is often distracting. It might even confuse users and they might actually lose the flow of their current task.


This guideline enables you to practice the concept of detail-on-demand. That is, provide more information only when it is requested for.

The Minimalistic Approach

Identify the bulky paragraphs that you might have included right in the middle of your numbered list. Include them in the conceptual information and provide a cross reference to it.

Step 6: Convert Narrative into Number or Bullet Lists

Users refer to our documents when they cannot accomplish a particular step or a task. Therefore, we should help them locate the exact section that they are looking for. Moreover, reading becomes easier with short and precise information.


This guideline helps you make your content task-oriented, structured, and concise.

The Minimalistic Approach

Look for transitional words such as First, Next, Then, and Finally. These words signify tasks. Trim these narrative paragraphs into a numbered list. Similarly, for parallel items, convert the information into a bullet list.

Step 7: Document Only One Method of Doing a Task

Often there are more than one methods by which you can do a particular task. For example, you can perform a task by choosing a menu option or clicking a toolbar icon.


This guideline encourages users to explore your product.

The Minimalistic Approach

If users can perform a task in more than one way, document the most common. You can remove the alternative methods or document them as common tasks.


If you want to draw attention of your users to your documents, think like a minimalist. Here are a few basic thoughts that you should consider when you adopt minimalist writing:

  • Avoid the obvious.
  • Be assertive and avoid extensive passive and narrative prose.
  • Comprehend the product workflow and structure your document accordingly.
  • Discuss your strategy with stakeholders.
  • Evolve your document based on iterative reviews.

Aparna Mudaliar is a Senior Technical Writer at SAS R&D, Pune and works on User Documentation and Embedded User Assistance for Flex-based web applications. Her interests include practicing meditation, participating in marathons, and cooking something exotic. She can be reached at aparnatw2001@gmail.com.


  1. Simple, short, and sweet! 🙂 Good one, Aparna.

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