If I’ve learned anything at work it’s how to technically write. I’ve become more aware than ever of how important clear writing can be, and how something that seems perfectly clear to one person can be completely misconstrued by another. I’ve learned to write boringly. Regardless of all the talk of creativity, there is very little room for a beautiful phrase or an artistic sentence in technical writing. There seems to be a strong inverse relationship between the amount of data that can be conveyed in a sentence and how exciting it is to read.
I like to write, and this makes me kind of sad. But it begs a couple of questions that I find pretty interesting. If exciting literature is more fun to read but carries less content, are we more inclined to read things that contain less information? Does this relate to the burnout we sometimes feel from being perpetually stimulated day in and day out as we maintain our busy lifestyles? Do we actually prefer things we don’t have to think about very hard, which contain less information for our brains to process? I’d argue that we do. But I’m not entirely convinced that technical writing is the best example.
See, there will always come a time when it’s necessary to communicate things for purely informational purposes. Speaking from an engineer’s standpoint, there is no requirement that this information be presented in an interesting way. After all, it’s pretty difficult to make cold hard facts interesting, much less entertaining. This being said, without at least a little bit of fluff and creativity, the entire literary world would be dead.
Because I’m an engineer and a dork, I’ve included a quick graph depicting this situation. Based on what I’ve said so far, a graph will probably make this post even less interesting or maybe even scare everyone off. I’ve included some of my personal opinions of “common household items” on the graph in an attempt to give other like-minded people a feel for what I’m trying to say. In engineering, this is a prevalent option for explaining something after you’ve given up on technical writing.
I wonder sometimes if it’s possible to ride that fine line between content and entertainment value successfully. It’s much too easy for a data-rich report to be a little overwhelming or an entertainment-centric sitcom to be annoyingly vapid. One could imagine that a compromise would harm the strong points on each side as much as it improved their deficiencies. Preferably, we’d be able to make credible data content enjoyable in an entertaining way.
If successful improvements like this could be made, our graph would exhibit a bubble of the sort depicted below. Ideally, as entertainment value increased, data content would remain high and steady up to the points where our heads explode. Who knows, maybe someday this upper right region will be filled with some kind of hypnopedia.
These are just some things I’ve learned in the last few months. I think it’s good to think about the kind of content we spend our time with, regardless of its flavor. But until you make your own conclusions, you should keep reading this blog until your head explodes, because that’s just how amazing our lives are over here.