Assessment of the minimalist approach to computer user documentation

Hans van der Meij, Ard W. Lazonder

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The minimalist approach (Carroll, 1990a) advocates the development of a radically different type of manual when compared to a conventional one. For example, the manual should proceed almost directly to procedural skills development rather than building a conceptual model first. It ought to focus on authentic tasks practised in context, as opposed to mock exercises and isolated practice. In addition, it should stimulate users to exploit their knowledge and thinking, as opposed to imposing the writer's view and discussing everything that users should see or know. In the first part of the paper the construction of a tutorial based on the minimalist principles is described. A parallel is drawn with constructivism with which minimalism shares important notions of instruction. In the second part, an experiment is described in which the minimal manual was tested against a conventional one. The outcome favoured the new manual. For example, minimal manual users completed about 50% more tasks successfully on a performance test and displayed significantly more self-reliance (e.g. more self-initiated error-recoveries, and fewer manual consultations).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-370
Number of pages16
JournalInteracting with computers
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1993


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