Minimalism Workshop – TC Camp 2017

Turning a Necessary Evil into a Greater Good

No one likes to read documentation. It’s a necessary evil…a last resort when every other option has been exhausted. Although it may contain what’s needed, answers are too often buried in trivialities, lost in information everyone already knows or doesn’t care about, and obscured by inconsistencies in presentation. How can technical communicators produce content that users willingly turn to first, confident that they can find an answer and return to work quickly? In this workshop, learn to apply minimalism principles to select appropriate content, flag it for rapid accessibility, structure it consistently, and author it for easy understanding.

Workshop leader: Dawn Stevens, Comtech Services

dawnstevensDawn Stevens is the incoming president of Comtech Services, specializing in information development, instructional design, and management consulting. With 27 years of experience, including 16 years at Comtech, Dawn has practical experience in virtually every role within a documentation and training department, including project management, instructional design, writing, editing, and multimedia programming. With both engineering and technical communication degrees, Dawn combines a solid technical foundation with strong writing and design skills to identify and remove the challenges her clients face in producing usable, technical information and training.

When: Saturday 21 January 2017, 8:30-10:30 AM

An interview with the presenter

by Li-At Rathbun, your TC Camp roving reporter

What if I told you there’s a process that streamlines your entire documentation effort? What if you were able to do more, and do it more quickly—in a way that made your end-users even happier? Introducing: minimalism.

Li-At: Who should attend this January 21 workshop?

Dawn: Writers, editors, and anyone else who’s looking for tips and techniques that could help streamline what they’re writing.

Li-At: If my bosses aren’t complaining about my non-minimalist writing, why should I care?

Dawn: Well, your bosses may be happy with the way things are right now. But if you can do more for less and relieve your stress, it’s going to be good for you. It’s just a matter of productivity. And it’s ultimately going to be good for your bosses and your company that you can handle more than you used to.
And the other focus is how to best serve your customers. Users want to get their answer and get out quickly. They don’t want to be bogged down with extra information. Ultimately, if your end-users are happy, your bosses will be happy—or happier.

Li-At: So you’re not teaching just about how to reduce the number of words on the page, but also how to approach the whole process?

Dawn: Absolutely! Minimalism is not just “how do we get less words on the page?” It’s an overall approach to getting the customers exactly what they want, when they want it—no more, no less.
When we think about minimalism as strictly the number of words on a page, we’re missing that key piece.

Li-At: Did minimalist writing—and the minimalist process—come naturally to you?

Dawn: Heavens no! We, as technical communicators, possess a natural curiosity and desire to learn everything that we can about something—and then to write it in a way that people will understand. So we tend to be very thorough. And that sort of goes against the whole theory of minimalism—where we only want to give what people need.
I’ve taught this for many years and I make myself follow it. But, from a natural perspective, I want to share everything I know. And I want to make sure I come across like I’m being consist. It’s a different way of thinking.

Li-At: What’s the story behind your unique speaker’s photo?

Dawn: I am a Disney-aholic. It’s a drawing that was done at Disney—where I go at least twice a year. It’s a picture of me as Maleficent. For some reason, I’ve always felt a kinship with the villains and felt sorry for them and how they’re misunderstood. So I love the Maleficent movie and how it showed that she wasn’t so bad after all.

Li-At: Okay, so this is TC Camp. So my next question is what’s your favorite camping spot?

Dawn: My husband and I wanted to make sure our girls are well-travelled. So our family’s been to 42 of the 60+ national parks in the United States. So this questions a bit difficult to answer—but I’ll go with Yellowstone. It has so many different faces; the geysers, the mountains, the waterfalls, the prairie, the forest—a bit of everything compacted into one little area.

Yellowstoen_furfur on Flickr(Photo courtesy of furfur)

Li-At: If you could take one person camping who would that be?
Dawn: My husband, of course! Who else is going to put up my tent and cook my meals and all those other things?
It’s my dream to write a movie script—something along the lines of “A Man Named Chris.” I want it to star Chris Hemsworth and Chris Pine and all those other Chrises that star in Star Trek and Marvel movies and such. Any one of those famous Chrises would be a great asset to my camping trip.