Minimalist Writing for Maximum Communication

EBSTC March Program Recap

Bruce Poropat is a practitioner and advocate for converting dense legalese into language that people can understand the first time they read it. In technical writing, the minimalist approach is reminiscent of Plain Language (see the federal government’s definition).

To the minimalist, it is the content’s message that is the priority, not the prose. In Bruce’s presentation on March 2, he first shared examples of minimalism in representational art, music and poetry, including a renowned example of minimalist fiction writing: “For sale: baby shoes never worn.”

In the remainder of his presentation, Bruce made more than a few great points that stimulated lively interactions around the dinner table. Below are a few memorable moments:

  • One slide featured a photograph of a shiny brown textured roll that somebody actually recognized as a deep fried Hostess Twinkie! This is how Bruce illustrates “word fat.” He demonstrated through audience participation and incremental slide animations how easy it can be to trim an overly wordy sentence to its message essence.
  • Technical writers are familiar with the concept — if not Bruce’s term — “word soup,” the verbose fluff and phrases that we would replace with one succinct word. Bruce shared a before-and-after list that included “manner in which” (way) and “demonstrated the presence of” (verified or showed). What does “engaging in agriculture” mean? Farming of course!

Even single words can hint at minimalism issues within content. Bruce is always on the alert for forms of to be (is, are, was, were, be, being, been), which are indicators of passive writing. Words in future tense (will or would) have no place when documenting a system’s present condition or capability.