Complexity: Documenting the Right Level of Detail

In last month’s newsletter, we covered Syntax and Vocabulary from our list of writing concepts. This month we pick up withComplexity and Numbers.

  • Syntax: the arrangement of words
  • Vocabulary: the choice of words
  • Complexity: the level of detail
  • Numbers: the presentation of numerical information
  • Format: the way a document looks
  • Style: conversational and emphasis methods
  • Organization: the grouping of process information
  • Conditions: the decision criteria
  • Lists: related items, possibly in sequence
  • Alerts: For warnings, cautions, and notes

This article covers Complexity:

Documents should not contain too little or too much information. They must be written at the appropriate level of detail. The right level of detail depends on the type of document, process frequency, work force stability, and the knowledge, skills, and experience of the reader. Documents with inadequate detail may lead to process errors. However, too much information can bore the reader and result in mistakes from inattention.

All documents assume a certain level of user knowledge. Check on the user qualifications for performing the described process. Write for a typical reader, not a specific reader. Find out what your audience needs to know and how the information should be presented for their understanding and use.

Write to help the reader, not just to describe the subject. Don’t write in isolation. Get to know your “customer”.

Some information should be covered in training instead of in a procedure or instruction. Check with the trainers in your organization to verify the assumed knowledge levels and avoid unnecessary details.

Format the document so users can quickly find relevant information and skip details if they don’t need it. Consider a format with actions in one column and the corresponding guidance in the adjacent column.