Re: Dumbing it down

Subject: Re: Dumbing it down
From: "Amy G. Peacock" <apeacock -at- WOLFENET -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 9 Dec 1998 09:38:36 -0800

On Tue, 8 Dec 1998, John Posada wrote:

> Amy...your comment goes against everything that I hold near and dear to my
> little tech-writing heart. Why is a simpler level of understanding
> automatically "dumber"?

I suppose I should have been a little clearer here - I DID NOT say
that *I* thought I was dumbing things down when I wrote concise, clear
sentences. I have always prided myself on being able to express
complicated things in uncomplicated terms. I believe that is what a
good writer does. As a poet on the side, brevity is the thing I strive
for.(By brevity I don't mean short, BTW, I mean something with no
extra words...every word must have meaning.)

The dumb it down concept is one that I have 'picked up' from those
around me... and I hate it.

> I truly object to the concept of just because you are writing something in
> terms that EVERYONE at every level of your audience, (at whatever level of
> understanding they may be) can understand, that it must be "dumber" than the
> version that could be understood by the people who's level of comprehension
> you approve of.

Nor did I say that I thought my audience was dumb because they might
not comprehend a piece of software on my level. (That in itself, is
doubtful -- some days Ithink I comprehend very little...) I perceive
my audience as very BUSY; they don't have a lot of time to fool around
with a program; they have to be out there serving the public (they are
restaurant managers); they have a million OTHER things to do than use
the program to churn out the numbers that the higher-ups want. I am a
firm believer in customer service (having done the retail thing for
many years) and what ever I can do to make the job of the restaurant
manager easier, I'll do it. I never said that I had to approve of the
user's level of understanding.

> YOU AREN'T WRITING FOR YOU. Regardless of your level of comprehension, it
> doesn't matter one iota. If a certain level of writing is need for your
> particular audience, then it is your responsibility to do so. There is no
> judgement involved, it's simply done. it's not a reflection of you, how much
> you know, what kinds of education, degree, experience you may have, it's
> based on writing something in very simple terms.

If I came off sounding like an intellectual snob I didn't mean to.
While I am very aware that every word on that page came from ME (and
therefore, on philosophical level, who I AM does matter), I am also
very aware that it is my job to make sure that once that document is
out my hands that it serves the folks who use it.

> Remember, what is probably the most complex principle ever conceived was
> written by someone who could have been thought to be above EVERYONE. The
> writing went something like this: E=MC2.

John, you are not the only one who threw the ideas/works of great
writers and thinkers back in my face. I have read the work of many of
the great thinkers and I often marvel at the brevity, simplicity, and
beauty of their writing.

> If your audience believed that the words were "too big", then regardless of
> what a piece of software says, they simply were. It's not the software that
> has to know how to insert Tab A into Slot B, the reader does.

It is not my *audience* that feels that the words are too big it is
the *middle-men*. My problem, in other words, seems to be that while I
strive for simple and clear (and sometimes fail) I get feedback from
them that says "More!" without telling me what the problem is - what
it is they are looking for. Since I am the lone writer and often my
own editor, I often feel that I am flailing around, trying to work
towards a unknown goal. What I *think* is happening is that my
managers are confusing the busy-ness of the store managers with
dumbness. And that's what frustrates me.

>Besides, the
> "biggest" words in the languge are the smallest; God, man, love, hate, I,
> you, etc,

THOSE are the words of poets, then, aren't they? A single word that
holds so much meaning that thousands of books have been written trying
to explain it... Although, now that I think of it, there is that one
famous word that is very long and is simple and complex at the same
time...Thank you Mary Poppins! :)

If this post sounds a little defensive, I apologize. John has made
some very good points. My purpose was to respond to those points and
to clarify and express my frustration with whole idea that the user is
dumb. The user is seldom dumb.

Amy Peacock
techwriter & jewelrymaker
Snohomish, Washington
apeacock -at- wolfenet -dot- com

"How do I set my laser printer to stun?"
12 days until the Winter Solstice

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