Minimalism Applies to Writing Too

~ 4 min read

As endless details consume our lives…minimalism offers to restore control: T-shirts become “work uniforms,” we throw out things and buy less, we even eat the same food to simplify grocery shopping…. Fewer things equals less decision-making and more time doing what we value.

But what about reading? How often do we scroll walls of text looking for the golden nugget?  How many books do we bypass for lack of time? Instruction manuals??? Who has time?

In a world where writers necessarily add to the overwhelming amount of content created every minute: We owe it to our readers to be kind and use fewer words. Whittle down the words and then color them with your friendly tone. Your readers will be more likely to seek you out next time.

Minimalist writing is an art with guidelines

Use fewer words. The length of our sentence, paragraph, the content itself—makes a difference. When we cut to the point, we reduce cognitive load. This is the effort to process information. Move and store it in working memory and move and retain it in long-term memory. A simple trick to cut length is to reorder:

Students can select the name of a chapter, section, or objective to work on it.


To work on a chapter, section, or objective, students select its name.

Make every word work. Words like “very,” “however,” “really,” “also,” and so on often add little. Our readers do not benefit from our verbosity.

As you reorder, remove any words that lack meaning.

 You also have the option of uploading a screenshot or other attachment.


You can upload a screenshot or another attachment.

Find the perfect word. Use a thesaurus and think about context. Find words that express the exact meaning you want to convey.

Select the .csv link and open the downloaded spreadsheet in a program like Excel.

Omit the unnecessary details. Do the details matter? If so, what’s required?

If you do not require very detailed or complex reports, select the Quick tab to generate a quick export based on the latest information in the system.


Unless you need a detailed report,
select Quick to generate a quick report with the latest data.

Use contractions, except for negatives. Contractions challenge many readers, particularly those with dyslexia. They’re often skipped. Their biggest benefit is their friendly tone. Taking a middle of the road approach, I use positive contractions. Negative words in warnings are spelled out.

If you’ve replaced the question, this option is not available.

Use the active voice. The active voice uses fewer words and empowers readers.

Watch the video that explains quick exports.

Use the Hemingway app. Check the reading level, voice, adverbs, and for simpler alternatives by pasting your text into this page. As this app says:

Bullets and numbering simplify directions. When you find yourself stringing phrases into paragraphs, think lists. Use bulleted lists when the order does not matter and ordered steps when it does.

But do not skip the About paragraphs. When I first started writing, I’d no sooner round the corner to my best reviewer when I’d hear: “Why do I care?” Unpack value before you ask readers to invest their time.

You can assign a companion Study Plan as a prerequisite for a test or quiz
to help your students prepare.


To change the weights for student assignments, use the Change Weights page. Choose which weights to edit. For example, assign higher weights to tests and quizzes than homework. You might assign the heaviest weight to the final exam.

Be nice! Getting to the point doesn’t mean boring, buttoned-up text. Make your lean text engaging.

Along with the online Help (you’re reading it now),
you can reach out to Pearson Support.

Use images. The old adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” is still true. Include both. Our user testing shows us that most people want to see pictures. For example, dyslexic readers often use images to help interpret words. Follow the minimalist rule and keep your images and animations simple.

Make an impact with an animated gif

The following example comes from Pearson MyLab Help: I took 282 words and 1 .png image and whittled the topic down by two-thirds. It’s now 99 words and an animated gif. Included in the 99 words is information missing from the original topic. Sometimes less really does more.


How we all benefit

When writers get to the point, everyone benefits: We lower the cognitive load and help users find and retain what we write. This is especially important for folks with low working memories. They find it hard to read and retain extra verbiage.

All examples are from my work in Pearson Education’s MyLab Help.

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