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 12:04:19 -0500

Replying to myself to add that the Nasa example is actually excerpted on the
web, here:
http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=0001yB&topic_id=1

-Wendy

On Wed, Mar 2, 2011 at 12:01 PM, voxwoman <voxwoman -at- gmail -dot- com> wrote:

> 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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>> >>
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>> ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
>>
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>
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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
Re: Writing to your audience: From: voxwoman

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