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Subject:RE: Writing to your audience From:"Dan Goldstein" <DGoldstein -at- riverainmedical -dot- com> To:<techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com> Date:Mon, 28 Feb 2011 13:54:20 -0500
If we're given an impossible (or improbable) communcation task, it's our
job to alert management to the risk of miscommunication. That's still
not the audience's fault.
From: Porrello, Leonard
Sent: Monday, February 28, 2011 1:32 PM
To: 'Phil'; Dan Goldstein
Cc: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: RE: Writing to your audience
Interesting story about NASA, but I am not sure that's the real story. A
documentary I saw indicated that it was more a matter of willful
ignorance (on the part of management) than either a want of
communication or an inability to understand. Be that as it may,
sometimes material is too complex for even some members of the target
audience to comprehend.
Einstein stated, "Everything should be kept as simple as possible, but
no simpler." There is no guarantee after you have made everything "as
simple as possible" that everyone in even your target audience will
understand what you are talking about. Granted, in the case of NASA, the
engineers may have culpably failed to reduce their message into language
that even my toddler could understand: "If you launch now, the whole
thing may go big boomie!" But even had they used such a description, it
would have provided little to help the technicians who were tasked with
repairing the shuttle. The techs would have required detailed, technical
information that may have simply been beyond the ken of project
managers. Similarly, while Sachse's writing may not have been simple
enough of Popular Mechanics, he may have described his structure as
simply as possible, and that may have been beyond the grasp of his
Before we can damn Sachse as a poor communicator, I think we have to
look at how those who eventually validated his structure talked about
it. Was what they wrote significantly more comprehensible then what
As tech writers, we need to ensure that our "target audience"
understands what we are writing. At the same time, we have to admit that
it is theoretically possible to be tasked with writing about a topic
that is complex to the point that certain people in even the target
audience may be incapable of understanding it. (In which case, you may
say that the target audience hasn't been defined well enough, but that
is another argument.)
"It's never the audience's fault if they fail to understand me" is an
aphorism, not a truism.
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