When you write procedures, do you offer your readers more than one way to complete a task? Some writers go to pains to explain one procedure and then offer alternatives. For example:
1. Click the Select button.
From the Options menu, click Select.
From the Actions section, click Select.
This approach is pretty common and is consistent with the North American belief that choice is empowering and provides greater satisfaction.
Author Barry Schwartz disagrees. In his book the Paradox of Choice, he contends that too much choice can make decision-making a challenge. In the long-term, he argues that this leads to decision-making paralysis, anxiety, and stress. He even suggests that too many choices in one’s life can lead to clinical depression.
In just one example in the book, Schwartz documents the bewildering options that he faced when visiting his local supermarket:
- Eighty varieties of pain relievers
- One hundred and sixteen types of skin cream
- Three hundred and sixty types of conditioners, shampoos, gels, and mousse.
- Ninety types of cold remedies and decongestants
- Ninety-five snack options
- Sixty-five box drinks
- And so on…
Schwartz points out that several studies have concluded that people are less satisfied when faced with a large array of choices. Fewer options may actually make one’s life easier.
In keeping with this research, as technical writers, perhaps we should also streamline the number of choices we offer our users. It makes our lives easier and our readers could very well prefer the simpler, more streamlined approach.