Arvo Delights

Subtractive Writing Process Docs

Creating Streamlined and Effective Process Documentation using the Art of Subtractive Writing
Micah Johnson

The challenge always lies in crafting concise, focused, and easily digestible documentation.

One effective approach to achieve this is by employing the “write subtractively” method. A method I’ve created and have been using successfully for years.

In this article, I will explore the art of subtractive writing and how it leads to the creation of effective and impactful process documentation.

Brain Dump: Unleash the Ideas

The first step in the “write subtractively” approach is to unleash your creativity and freely brainstorm all ideas related to the process documentation.

Write down every essential element, concept, or step that comes to mind without worrying about organization or structure.

This brain dump allows you to capture a comprehensive range of ideas, ensuring that no crucial aspects are missed during the subsequent subtraction process.

Identify the Core Idea

Once you have completed the brain dump, carefully review and analyze the collected ideas.

Look for the common thread or core idea that lies at the heart of the process documentation.

This core idea represents the fundamental purpose or objective of the documentation.

It serves as the guiding principle for the subtraction process, helping you focus on what truly matters and eliminating unnecessary elements that may clutter the documentation.

Remove Redundancies and Non-Essentials

With the core idea in mind, start subtracting non-essential elements from the brain dump.

Look for redundancies, repetitions, or unnecessary information that does not directly contribute to understanding the core idea.

Trim excessive details, unnecessary explanations, or technical jargon that might overwhelm or confuse readers.

Strive for clarity and simplicity by retaining only the essential components that directly support the core idea.

Streamline the Flow

An essential aspect of subtraction is streamlining the flow of information within the process documentation.

Focus on creating a logical and intuitive structure that guides readers from one step to another seamlessly.

Remove any unnecessary detours, irrelevant tangents, or excessive transitions that may disrupt the flow.

Ensure that the documentation flows smoothly, allowing readers to follow the process effortlessly and without distractions.

Simplify Language and Formatting

In addition to subtracting content, pay attention to simplifying language and formatting.

Use clear and concise language, avoiding unnecessary jargon or technical terms that might confuse readers.

Break down complex ideas into easily understandable sentences and paragraphs.

Consider using bullet points, numbered lists, or headings to enhance readability and enable readers to quickly scan and locate relevant information.

Remember, simplicity and clarity are key to effective process documentation.

Test for Comprehension and Usability

Once you have streamlined the process documentation, testing it for comprehension and usability is crucial.

Share the documentation with a diverse group of users or stakeholders and gather their feedback.

Assess whether they can easily understand and follow the documented process.

Solicit input on any potential areas that may still need subtraction or clarification.

Iteratively refine the documentation based on the feedback received, ensuring it is optimized for user comprehension and usability.


The “write subtractively” method offers a powerful approach to creating streamlined and effective process documentation.

By brain-dumping ideas and then systematically subtracting non-essential elements, you can distill their documentation to the core idea, eliminate clutter, and promote efficient understanding.

The art of subtraction lies in achieving simplicity, clarity, and focus while ensuring that the essential information is effectively communicated.

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