Documentation Maximalism

You may hear people, particularly people who don't like to write documentation, something like:

Users need minimalist documentation that only answers their questions, and there's no point in overwhelming users with bloated, maximalist documentation that they'll never read.

Which sounds great, but doesn't reflect reality or best practice. Consider the following:

  • Documentation is as much for the producers of the software as it is for the users. Having extensive documentation contributes too, and reflects a sane design process. Collecting and curating the documentation helps ensure that the software is usable and knowable.
  • Having complete documentation reduces support costs, both by reducing the volume of support requests and by lowering the complexity of the work associated with support.
  • Good extensive documentation drives adoption of software. Products with better documentation will always see better adoption than comparable products with worse documentation.

Without users, software is useless.

Does this mean that you shouldn't value minimalism, particularly conceptual minimalism, and visual minimalism? Does this mean you should avoid customizing the documentation to fit the needs and patterns of your users?

No, of course not.

But minimalism for the sake of minimalism, without a particular strategy is an awful and ill-gotten ideology.

Even if it looks good, and particularly if it sounds good.

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