To Write Well, Avoid “Well, There’s Your Problem”

by Randy Murray on January 24, 2013

I am fascinated by specialized knowledge. It is amazing how many activities have deep and arcane information built up around them. The auto mechanic, the plumber, the electrician, the farmer, all have their own stores of this special knowledge, as do virtually any professions or pursuits. They are, in a very real sense, as much nerds as the most obsessed comic book or Star Wars fan.

Possessors of such specialized knowledge often revel in their mastery of their topics, especially with others in their chosen field. The exchange of bits of information can be both entertaining and valuable. But problems arise when those inside the knowledge pool need to communicate with those of us on the outside.

I am expert an a number of areas and conversant in many more, but I detest when I need help from someone in an area that I know little or nothing about and I’m treated like an imbecile for not knowing their secrets, even the most basic ones. One of the most common experiences is standing beside your car with the hood open and have someone tell you, “Well, there’s your problem.” It’s smug and useless.

Yes, any apprentice plumber will know what tool to use to thread a copper pipe. But I’m not an apprentice. You can be appreciated for your expertise without demeaning your potential customers and rubbing their faces in their lack of knowledge.

It’s also part of the reason that I can make a pretty decent living as a writer. I’m the person who talks with the experts and finds a way to communicate that special knowledge to others without the insults and smirks. While one should not expect the general reader to be completely clueless, to communicate, especially if you want that reader to purchase what you’re selling, you need to find a way to translate and communicate enough special knowledge to help them comfortably make that buying decision.

Here’s advice for the expert: once, you too were a novice. You don’t need to show off; in fact, if you can find a way to communicate without bombast you’ll be more likely to make a connection that will magnify your ability to communicate. You’ll be able to communicate more completely, and most importantly, in the shortest amount of time.

That’s what most experts really want: shortcuts to communicating. Jargon may seem like a shortcut, but when you’re conversing with someone outside of your area of specialized knowledge, jargon actually slows communication.

Here’s what’s most important: don’t resort to insults or smugness when explaining ANYTHING. Just offer a way of understanding that demonstrates that you’re not just an expert, but that you understand the value of communicating that expertise.

The To Write Well, Avoid “Well, There’s Your Problem” by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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