Re: Writing to your audience

Subject: Re: Writing to your audience
From: voxwoman <voxwoman -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: Phil <philstokes03 -at- googlemail -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2011 12:01:49 -0500

I also believe the Nasa story is excerpted in Tufte's manifesto against
PowerPoint:
http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/books_pp

-Wendy

On Mon, Feb 28, 2011 at 1:35 PM, Phil <philstokes03 -at- googlemail -dot- com> wrote:

> Tufte's point, made at length and which took into account subsequent
> reports and findings (equally flawed, as he found), was rather more complex,
> but you need to read the original to get a sense of the multiple failures in
> communication.
>
> See: Tufte, E. R (1997) Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities,
> Evidence and Narrative. Connecticut: Graphics Press.
>
>
> On 1 Mar 2011, at 01:31, Porrello, Leonard wrote:
>
> > 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 reviewers.
> >
> > 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 Sachse wrote?
> >
> > 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.
> >
> >
> >
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: techwr-l-bounces+lporrello=illumina -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com[mailto:
> techwr-l-bounces+lporrello=illumina -dot- com -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com] On Behalf Of
> Phil
> > Sent: Monday, February 28, 2011 7:01 AM
> > To: Dan Goldstein
> > Cc: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
> > Subject: Re: Writing to your audience
> >
> > Great story, both from Peter and Dan's response. Reminds me of Tufte's
> re-telling of the Space Shuttle disaster and how all the facts were known by
> the engineers, but nobody at NASA understood what they meant.
> >
> >
> > On 28 Feb 2011, at 21:42, Dan Goldstein wrote:
> >
> >> I passed this on to a science educator I know. Her response was, "Why
> >> blame Sachse for his failure to communicate? Why not blame the other
> >> chemists for their failure to understand?"
> >>
> >> I explained to her that, from my point of view as a tech writer, it's
> >> never the audience's fault if they fail to understand me.
> >>
> >>
> >> -----Original Message-----
> >> From: Peter Neilson
> >> Sent: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 1:15 PM
> >> To: TECHWR-L
> >> Subject: Writing to your audience
> >>
> >> I happened to be looking up cyclohexane and came upon this short piece:
> >>
> >> http://www.chem.yale.edu/~chem125/125/history/Baeyer/Sachse.html
> >>
> >> It tells of Hermann Sachse's discovery in 1890 of the correct
> >> conformational structure of cyclohexane, and of his failure to
> >> communicate it to other organic chemists. He even made 3-D models, but
> >> his work was rejected precisely because it required the reader to cut
> >> out and fold a paper model. "It is not possible," wrote a reviewer, "to
> >> write an abstract of this paper, especially since the author's
> >> explanations are hardly understandable without models."
> >>
> >> Sachse produced various explanations of the structure, using very hairy
> >> trigonometry and geometry, that no chemist bothered reading. He died
> >> three years later. The structure was not validated until 1918, and not
> >> fully recognized until 1950.
> >>
> >> The article concludes with:
> >>
> >> "Know your audience, and express yourself in terms they can understand."
> >>
> >>
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Follow-Ups:

References:
RE: Writing to your audience: From: Dan Goldstein
Re: Writing to your audience: From: Phil
RE: Writing to your audience: From: Porrello, Leonard
Re: Writing to your audience: From: Phil

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