On Writing


A few weeks ago, I took a four-day class to learn more about the software that Tennessee state employees use for managing contracts, tracking items to be paid, paying estimates to contractors, etc. The software is complicated enough to warrant a 300-page manual and a 400-page training guide, and even those don't go into every detail or exception. The whole thing is bananas, and I love it.

During the class, the instructor paused to ask some review questions. One of the questions just wasn't clicking for anyone, and the instructor was gracious in saying that she should rework the question to remove the ambiguity. She then shared advice she had been given in a technical writing class:

"Don't write something so people will understand it. Write so they won't misunderstand it."

I wish I could give attribution for that quote because I have shared it at least a dozen times already. It resonates with me as a person who spent a decade creating brochures, posters, websites, and the like, but it's also something I try to achieve in all my writing—whether that's a tweet or a blog post or an email or even a Post-It note with a reminder to self that I won't look at for three weeks. (It's definitely good advice for anyone who does online customer support. Cough, Squarespace, cough, don't get me started, cough.)

Anyway, I really like the idea, and I look forward to carrying it with me.