My most recent class in my technical writing program was called “Designing Short, Informative Documents.” It was a week-long, hands-on, workshop-type class. By far, it was one of the most practical college courses I’ve ever taken. Because of that, it is one of my favorite college courses.
The first great thing I learned in my course about short, informative documents is that deductive reasoning is the reasoning of the day. In short informative documents, there is never a place for inductive reasoning. The reason being, if your document is short and informative, chances are your readers will be reading it under circumstances that don’t allow for an in-depth study of the document. Rather, they are likely looking at it with a quick glance or scan (in a doctor’s office or a hotel lobby perhaps). Assume the reader will NOT read the entire document. If that is the case, then the punch needs to be at the beginning of the argument.
The second great thing I learned is that anything that distracts from the important information is noise and it should be removed. In other words, if something on the document doesn’t contribute to the essential message, take it out. This applies to graphics, information, colors, etc. This principle informs the content. Essentials only.
And the third great thing I learned in my course is that short informative documents are about communication, not grammar and fancy words. If grammar and/or words make it difficult to communicate to the reader, consider changing. Use language and syntax that communicates.
I learned much more than just this, but these three things seem to be most relevant to the issues that I face as a technical writer/editor.