RE: Tech-Reading vs. Other Reading

Subject: RE: Tech-Reading vs. Other Reading
From: KMcLauchlan -at- chrysalis-its -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 24 Oct 2001 10:16:05 -0400

Iggy [mailto:iggy_1996dp -at- yahoo -dot- com] sez:
[...]
> > Is this normal? Does anyone else have this problem?
>
> Most tech writers are information junkies by nature.
> We love to absorb and retain. Unfortunately, as
> junkies, we're in need of our quick fixes. It's much
> easier to get those fixes in snippets rather than in
> long discussions.
>
> I have to admit, I find it hard to read anything long
> in length and rich in text. I have a hard time
> focusing on Intercom articles, novels, and so forth.
> Newspapers, a lot of web sites, TV, radio, email,
> technical documents, meeting agendas, etc. all feed us
> what we need to know in snippets. We spend more time
> reading these things than a good book or well-formed
> article. It's a lifestyle. I don't think it's either
> good or bad on its own, but I think a lot of people
> are so used to the snippets that they are distancing
> themselves from the richer media.

I think the problem has two parts:

1) Interest and
2) Quality of writing.

Every time I see an issue of Scientific American (even the
new watered down form of the last few years) or Nature,
or The Economist or Reason, I eagerly glom onto it and start
reading.

I've read and enjoyed articles from The Lancet and the New
England Journal of Medicine. Some of them were on obscure
topics that will never have an impact on my life. Others
might have been about topics closer to home. I'd say that
those examples contrasted an inherent reader interest (mine)
in some cases against an infectious and well-presented interest
on the part of the author.

Some of the articles that I read, from start to finish, are
columns of dense prose. But, they are on topics (sub-topics?)
that interest me, and they are written in a clear, engaging
style.

Time was, I could say the same about monographs and research
papers... some of them.

Others are drudgery. If I don't have a compelling reason to
slog my way through them, I satisfy myself with the "executive
summary" or the abstract or... :-) the titles and headings.
Some people, without inserting a lot of cartoons and eye candy,
can make their topics accessible and meaningful.

Anybody remember Asimov's non-fiction?
Anybody who's NOT a physics major read Feineman?
Even if, like me, you aren't into math, you can probably
read and enjoy Paulos.

It's a balance. The more a writer can inject life, enthusiasm,
sparkle into a subject, the less initial interest we (the readers)
need, to get involved and stay involved. The greater our prior
interest (or other motivation) the poorer and drier a presentation
we'll accept without balking (or nodding off...).

At least in my case (and I'm not alone), it's not merely a
matter of point-form, bite-sized, highlights-only presentation
that allows/encourages me to read an article. Certainly, though,
that kind of presentation can help when the material is not
already interesting to me, or when the author does not write
in interesting, engaging fashion.

Of course, YMMV.

Now, if we could just bottle and sell "interesting and engaging
writing style"... :-)

/kevin

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