Awareness of assumptions


Anime girl at computer

A few other things from that same episode of Back to Work by Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin was about writing clarity. This isn’t just about making sure you use simple English and avoid those ‘big words’ but about assumptions.

I’m pretty sure this is something I’ve mentioned before, but one quote that I’ve always recalled despite not being a fan of my mathematics teacher in Year 10 (she made students cry in class) is don’t assume, or you’ll just make an ASS out of U and ME.

Despite thinking it hilarious at the time, it’s still stuck with me through the years and I’ve always tried to assume nothing when giving directions.

I assumed it was off

Dan recounts a story of telling his mother how to operate their new cable box. When the screen of the television went dark, she thought of course the television had turned off, as it was black and there was nothing on it, but that was because he hadn’t given her directions as to how to turn it off.

In some years past, I’ve been told by various people that I give good directions, and I attribute this to the fact that I just try to recount something as if I were doing it myself, and try to name as many landmarks as possible. Just things that I notice when I usually pass by, and that they might too.

Of course, this has the carry on effect that whatever I may be explaining may end up being substantially longer though, but at least it’s thorough. Or ‘meticulous’ as I was also once described… This also carries the risk that no one is going to want to read it either, and would cause further problems such as them getting lost instead. Oops.

Being aware

Perhaps part of my awareness about instructions and directions also comes from being on the receiving end so often though. Being relatively ignorant about a lot of things, I tend to search often and have to search again as so much that I come across is unclear.

Not that it doesn’t work, because I’m sure it does. But it isn’t clear enough for me to repeat it.

Or at the least, there are assumptions as to how much you understand. Technical posts will often do this, where people may do things without explanation - in such cases, I prefer to find screenshots as this may be easier to follow, though not many people screenshot their terminal, they just paste code into <code></code> or <pre></pre> blocks…

I guess it can be easy to forget that there are often many who are not as knowledgeable as yourself, or perhaps these people are only writing for their own audience rather than being inclusive, but feeling like I’m constantly on the bottom rung, I guess it’s something I personally won’t be forgetting too soon.

All the better if it helps me with my writing, I suppose!

Top illust - Artist unknown.