The Editor noticed that his scanner software had a menu with four different modes: Full Auto Mode, Office Mode, Home Mode, Professional Mode. What’s the difference? Well, a look at the help file should tell us.
Mode Selection list box
The list box at the top right of the window displays the current scanning mode and allows you to change it. Click the small arrow to the right of the list box, and then click the name of the desired mode to change the mode. You can choose from the following modes:
Full Auto Mode
This is all the help file has to say about this menu. Now, what can we learn from this information?
We can learn how a drop-down list box works in computer software. But you don’t have to explain common interface tasks, like moving the pointer and choosing an item from a list, in the help file for your scanner software. In fact, it’s a bad thing to add useless information like that. Unnecessary information makes it hard to find necessary information.
So what else do we learn? We learn the names of the four modes. But we already learned them by looking at the menu, which is already there in front of us, which is why we were looking at the help file in the first place.
In other words, we have learned absolutely nothing from this help file. It was no help at all.
So what might we want to know?
We might want to know what happens if we choose one of those four modes. How is Office Mode different from Professional Mode? What happens if I use Home Mode in the office?
When you’re writing any kind of documentation, eliminate all useless information. If the reader is looking at an on/off switch, it does not help to say, “The switch has two positions. The upper position is labeled ‘ON,’ and the lower position is labeled ‘OFF.’ Placing the switch in the position labeled ‘ON’ will apply power to the device. Placing the switch in the position labeled ‘OFF’ will turn off power to the device.” All that information is plainly useless, because it is already conveyed by a mere glance at the switch.
So be ruthless in eliminating useless information. And if, when you have eliminated the useless information, you have no information left, then you have not yet given your readers the information they really want.