Greg DeVore

By: Greg DeVore on May 18th, 2011

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Are You Communicating or Just Writing?

Software Documentation Tips | Documentation Managers

Girl Drawing

I read two articles recently. One article highlighted the technical communication work of a six-year-old while the other was by a professional journalist for a major online publication. One example communicated information clearly and concisely. The other talked in abstractions. Can you guess which was which?

Anne Gentle of Just Write Click showcased some technical communication work from her friend's 6-year-old daughter. The aspiring instructional designer created a step-by-step guide showing how to create a Play-Doh apatosaurus. When you look at the results you might notice something - there are no words, just pictures.

Contrast that with this article by Tony Bradley at MacWorld, "Using Google Docs on the iPad". In the article Tony Bradley describes in words what Google Docs looks and feels like on the iPad. Here is one excerpt:

The next screen took a little getting used. There is a small section toward the top for typing text, with a bar at the “bottom” that lists the currently logged-in Google account in the middle, with a Sign Out button on the left, and a Help button on the right. But the reason bottom is in quotations is that below this bar is a massive amount of unused space that takes up about two-thirds of the iPad display. I tried it in portrait and landscape—either way there is a huge section of useless space.

There isn't a single picture in the article. Just text describing the Google Docs interface.

The question is, which author communicates more information in less time? Which author helps you understand more in less time? I think the 6-year-old is on to something. Anne comments in her article, "This elementary-school student definitely 'gets' that the future of tech comm is in pictures."

Clearly somewhere between 6 years old and adulthood text becomes our primary mode of communication. This is because we all know that any educated person needs to know how to write. But communicating is far more important than writing and in many situations, especially in technical communications, words don't communicate effectively. They are too abstract, too vague and too open to misinterpretation. A picture by a six-year-old will trump the best writing of any technical writer.

So at what stage in your life did you stop talking in pictures? When are you going to get started again?

About Greg DeVore

CEO of ScreenSteps