Magic

I try to limit the amount of magic that I allow in my worldview, as too much of it can cause confusion.

In my last article’s PS I mentioned that my articles sometimes have an abrupt end. And then I remembered that I a couple of moths ago I’ve put aside a book just about that “On writing well”; my reading list got too long and I had to prioritize.

Now I was thinking to get it out of archive, and maybe I can find some hints on how to improve my writing. And, it’s just a fine book that I have enjoyed reading and I thought I’d enjoy some more.

I open the book at where I left it, and read chapter title: “Science and Technology”. Hm… interesting: exactly what I was looking for! Isn’t it magic? ;) Magic or not, I found a few things that resonated with me, ones that I’d like to write down:

Describing how a process works is valuable for two reasons. It forces you to make sure you know how it works.

I think at the basis of this idea is the same principle that makes the Rubber duck debugging work.

Here are a few more. I will not comment on each of them because they’re pretty clear by themselves.

Imagine science writing as an upside-down pyramid. Start at the bottom with the one fact a reader must know before he can learn any more. The second sentence broadens what was stated first, making the pyramid wider, and the third sentence broadens the second, so that you can gradually move beyond fact into significance and speculation—how a new discovery alters what was known, what new avenues of research it might open, where the research might be applied. There’s no limit to how wide the pyramid can become, but your readers will understand the broad implications only if they start with one narrow fact.

Another way to help your readers understand unfamiliar facts is to relate them to sights they are familiar with. Reduce the abstract principle to an image they can visualize.

Another way of making science accessible is to write like a person and not like a scientist. It’s the same old question of being yourself. Just because you’re dealing with a scholarly discipline that’s usually reported in a style of dry pedantry is no reason why you shouldn’t write in good fresh English.

Only through clear writing by experts can the rest of us make educated choices as citizens in these areas where we have little or no education.

This last one resonated pretty loud with me, and I cant mention at least two big contexts where I see it applied.

One is when being with kids, and I find myself rising my voice to make something happen, then I remember one nice little quote:

Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.

If I manage to remember it, I quickly calm down and smile. :-)

Then, another one is when, say at work, someone is proposing The Best Solution™ for the problem at hand, but the rest of the world seem not to get it, let alone agree with it. Then I remember this one:

You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.

This eases the frustration and directs me to think about reformulating my idea in a way that the ones that I try to convince will understand; maybe.

I think in both these cases, the same idea is at the root. Any conversation implies two factors: the listener and the speaker. If they’re not aligned, the message will likely get lost. And as a speaker, you only have control over how you package and delivering the message.