This post was translated and adapted from “Weniger schlecht über IT schreiben” by Christina Czeschik and Matthias Lindhorst
Of course, most good writers are smart and knowledgeable people.
But not all knowledgeable people are good writers.
In fact, so many knowledgeable people write in such a confusing way that only people who are able to extract any meaning from their texts are equally knowledgeable people.
This, in a nutshell, is the curse of knowledge: the subconscious belief that others have the same understanding as we do — and are able to keep up when we launch on long-winded explanations using a plethora of industry terms and acronyms.
Sadly, we often are mistaken in this assumption.
As technology penetrates modern society ever more deeply, the ability to clearly communicate complicated, technical ideas is becoming more and more important. However, the technically gifted among us still struggle to clearly communicate their ideas to the general public.
Luckily, combatting the curse of knowledge isn’t impossible.
Many intelligent people are also excellent writers. Many techies can break down very complicated ideas and write about them in a clear, straightforward fashion.
So what’s their secret?
They started by understanding themselves. And, more importantly, defining the barrier between things they know and the things most people know.
If you suspect you possess knowledge that others don’t — and statistically speaking you probably do — ask yourself the following questions to figure out where on the knowledge spectrum you land.
After defining your knowledge level, you’ll be better prepared to connect with your readers in a way they can understand.
What technology or specialized fields are you familiar with?
Python, functional programming, network protocol, content management systems, 3-D graphics, etc.
What is your level of understanding on the subject(s)?
Give yourself a grade from A to F. It may be useful to ask colleagues within your field for help.
Are you more comfortable communicating directly or indirectly?
Would you be more likely to say sentence A or B?
As a reader, what kinds of things do you like or dislike?
Are there emails form certain senders you feel are too over the top? What about them makes you feel like they’re too much?
What do you enjoy reading? What exactly do you like about them (i.e. lots of bullet points, detailed explanations, lots of images, etc.)
What reading habits do you have?
Do you skim before diving in, or do you always study texts very carefully from beginning to end? Do you prefer big blocks of text, or texts broken up by images and tables?
What form does your opinion take in writing? (Or what form do you hope it will take?)
Blogs, conference speeches, books, magazines, etc.
From these answers you can better understand your knowledge and preferences.
Indeed, erasing your memory to forget all of your knowledge and experiences is not the cure to the curse of knowledge — it’s just figuring out what kind of language your readers are able to understand.
While it’s very possible that your readers are speaking in the same language as you, it may be wise to take a critical look at yourself before you make that potentially dire assumption.
Because it’s also very possible that professional-level speech has infiltrated your conversations to the point it becomes part of your daily vocabulary.
Understanding where you stand on the knowledge spectrum is a critical component to clearly communicating your ideas to the people you’re trying to reach.
The next critical component? Figuring out who your readers are.
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