In the last issue of Together magazine, Andy Peck was looking at the book Made to Stick; why some ideas stick and others die by Chip and Dan Heath. It was his explanation of their idea that knowledge can be a curse that really struck me. Andy said that they showed how research in economics and psychology points to the fact that when we know something it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. This results in us becoming bad communicators; especially to those engaging with the facts for the first time.
I was immediately reminded of my first job as an editor in the General Reference department of a big publishing company. Most of my work centred around finding experts in their field (on subjects ranging from interiors to mountaineering to fly fishing!) and then helping them to craft a beginner’s guide to the subject. I found a lot of the manuscripts were like gobbledygook to me; it made me feel a little foolish, but working on a subject I wasn’t an expert in enabled me to go back to the authors and gently explain where I felt they hadn’t provided enough information. Often, they had simply assumed a certain level of knowledge because they knew it so well themselves and I had to work hard to make sure their text was clear and accessible for readers.
As I reflected on this, I started to think: as writers how do we ensure we are conveying our knowledge well to our readers? As a non-fiction writer, I hope the experience I have had as an editor helps me to think carefully as to whether I am fully explaining the points I am putting across. However, I know the reality is that we all have our blind spots – and even us editors miss things anyway! ;) Often, when I’m writing a chapter I just let it all come – and then I can find it hard to chop and change it afterwards because it does seem to have a natural flow to it (yes, that probably means I'm too close to it and need an editor! ;) ). But reading Andy’s comments gave me a reminder to be vigilant in checking that I am being as clear as I can be about the information or concept I am writing about.
In an effort to learn how to do that better, do any of you have particular ways you ensure you are passing on your knowledge as clearly and concisely as you can – I’d love to hear from you if so!
Claire is a freelance writer and editor, mum to two gorgeous young children, pastor’s wife, worship leader and school governor. Claire’s desire is to help others draw closer to God through her writing, which focuses on authenticity, marriage, parenting, worship, discipleship, issues facing women today etc. Her books include Taking your Spiritual Pulse, CWR’s Insight Into Managing Conflict and Cover to Cover: David A man after God’s own heart and BRF Foundations21 study guides on Prayer and Jesus. She also writes a regular column for Christian Today as well as Bible study notes, and her next book, Insight Into Self-acceptance, is due out in October. She is currently working on another co-written book, Insight Into Burnout, as well as her own book Taking off the mask: learning to live authentically. To find out more about her, please visit www.clairemusters.com and @CMusters on Twitter.