Effective Writing: Improving Scientific, Technical, and Business Communication

By Christopher Turk; John Kirkman | Go to book overview

6

Algorithms for complex possibilities and procedures

Another aspect of organization which we wish to discuss separately is the need to arrange information physically so that readers can easily find their route through a mass of information that must be made available, but will not all be relevant to all readers. It is often necessary to present information which has complex inter-relations, and to show how those inter-relations can lead to various outcomes. Similarly, it is often necessary to explain that various combinations of conditions can produce a particular state (perhaps a fault), and to explain that various actions must be taken according to which conditions exist.

From reading tax guides or instruction manuals for equipment, we all know that prose accounts of this sort of information can be extraordinarily complex. They often read like conundrums. Though the sentences may be short and simple, the complexity of the relations is confusing, principally because we have to read about all the possible situations. Normally, however, readers are interested in only one set of conditions, and wish to know the outcome from these only. They want the information presented in a way that will help them sort out the possible relationships or conditions and isolate the set relevant to their interests.

In these circumstances, it is not enough just to 'present' the complex information-to make a mass of data available to any reader prepared to work through it. For effective communication, the writer must enable readers to find their way quickly and easily to the decisions they need, which means helping them to ignore information not relevant to them. The writer must make the right information available for use, yet make minimum demands on the readers' time and attention.

-82-

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