By Alan Graner
The Curse of Knowledge
Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker https://www.inc.com/glenn-leibowitz/the-single-reason-why-people-cant-write-according-.html?cid=hmmore asked one simple question: “Why is so much writing so hard to understand.”
His answer: People can be too smart or too knowledgeable to communicate effectively. He calls it “the curse of knowledge.”
He says most businesses, industries and disciplines develop their own shorthand to signify concepts that are so well understood, there’s no need to go into long explanations—the people you’re talking to already understand.
When you write Six Sigma, HIPAA, edema, ASIC or bounce rate, these terms are perfectly clear to your peers and colleagues. They’re the everyday building blocks of your communications.
But what if I mention abiogenesis, decoherence, gambrel roof, Marbury v Madison, UAAL or CNC? If you don’t know what these terms mean, chances are you won’t get the point of what I’m trying to communicate.
Similarly, most businesspeople understand the meaning of EBITDA, IPO, KPI, RFP and ESOP. But their readers may not.(I for one had never heard of EBITDA before I looked it up. For all I knew it was a language in Papua-New Guinea.)
Know thy audience
Before writing a word, ask yourself this question: What can I assume my audience knows?
Unless you’re writing to your peers, assume they know little.
Therefore, if you use an acronym like IPO, spell it out the first time you use it (Initial Pubic Offering).
If you mention abiogenesis, briefly define it as the evolution of living organisms from inanimate substances.
If you cite the Glass-Steagall Act, explain it separates investment and commercial banking activities.
Another question to ask is: Do you really need to use such terms, or is there a more commonplace way of saying it?
Remember, the purpose of communication is communicating, not showing off your knowledge or intelligence.
As Pinker advises: “Before hitting publish and sending your writing out to the world…take a few moments to make sure that what you write is clear and understandable by as many of your intended readers as possible.”
What’s your opinion?
Alan Graner is Chief Creative Officer at Daly-Swartz Public Relations, an Orange County, CA business public relations and marketing content firm. For content that makes you stand out from the crowd, email Jeffrey Swartz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit www.dsprel.com.