Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Off topic: Blogs, Words, and Miscommunication

(Since I'm writing this as a personal reflection, I'm not going to make any attempt to format or organize this post... just read as you will, as you wish.)

One of the hardest parts of blogging (or, indeed, writing any sort of instruction) is covering all bases and making yourself as well-understood as possible. Your mind may be thinking one thing as you type your words out onto the screen, but the meaning behind those words can be lost as a reader skims over them, picks out the important points, and possibly misses other equally important ones.

Communication hiccups have been a problem stumbled upon to varying degrees by anyone who has ever written something for the purpose of instruction or explanation. I myself am relatively new to the blogging community, and already have had to go back and re-word several of my posts to better explain my meaning, or to highlight points that commentators seemed to miss. I'm quite certain that I am not alone in this experience.

My own work is in Distance Learning, and quite a bit of my college degree was focused on the importance of being concise with your data. Technical Writing was one course I took that lead to great insight on how to best arrange your thoughts, but it was only through experience comparing guides or course materials and then writing some myself that I can see just how much the reader's own interpretation can impact their entire understanding of what the author is trying to say. Assumptions in particular are one of the deadliest trip-wires out there.

Much of what we write will be skipped over, skimmed by eyes speeding to find the points the reader cares most about. This happens when we read news articles, books, blog posts, and even trade chat. I can't help but wonder what eyes may miss even this one lone sentence, lost in the midst of a paragraph. We can color words, emphasize them with bold, italics, or underlines, and even set them flashing on a computer screen, but if the reader doesn't interpret it correctly or even choose to read that section of the document, they may misinterpret your entire point.

What does a > sign mean to you, and what does it mean to your reader? Or a = sign, or that you left out something else to compare, or that by "players" you simply meant "friendly targets counted as being in your raid group" but felt that was too much of a mouth-full to continuously type? How extreme will a reader take what you say, how far will they cut it down to black-and-white? Will they later remember your clarification on it, or that there may be factors beyond what simple math can describe? Will anyone even read it?

Who is at fault? Is it the reader's job to take the time to fully read every word, see every letter? How esle wluod it be pbosisle to iretprent tihs stnence? Is it the writer's job to summarize and organize their documents as accurately as possible? I think it is some of both. Most of us know about "TL:DR," Too Long: Didn't Read: a lot of casual readers will have entirely skipped this paragraph by now. Yet if the author doesn't go into explicit detail on their math, comparisons, and reasoning, they can be questioned on that, too. If the author doesn't repeat a point multiple times as a conditional to their statement, it may be missed the one time that they did say it, and get questioned for it, or their whole post may be misrepresented by others, particularly if they are making a bold statement.

As bloggers for a widely-popular video game, it seems we must cater to all kinds of readers, and that makes the job incredibly difficult. Many blogs are looked to as sources of experience and answers to how exactly someone must play or to make themselves better, or what to do in the delicate social situations that the game--and life--sometimes leaves us in. It is an incredible responsibility, one that brings me to admire various bloggers for their shouldering of the burden and scrutiny. We have to figure out how precise we have to be with our words, and remember that not all of our readers will hold the same assumptions that we do. We know that we all make mistakes, or that someone who does read our words may misinterpret them in some way. We also know that inevitably, there will be someone who disagrees, be they right or wrong.

It is a tight line to walk, but one that we all must be aware of, be it as writers and readers alike.

(As a point to reflect on, this post has been edited 5 times since publishing.)


Road Rash said...

I have a dozen blogs on my daily review list.
Yours is on the top as my first click.

If you sometimes struggle with the words and agonize prior to posting, the results are well worth it.

Keep on ramblin' on.
Please and thanks.

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting reflection, Kae. Given everything that has been going on, I think this is some really unique insight.

I have training as an attorney, and one of the first things that we learn in our writing course (yes...they really DO teach us to be this convoluded!) is a method known as IRAC.

Clearly state the Issue (I). Present the Rule (R). Provide your Argument using facts and precedent to support your thoughts (A). State your conclusion (C).

As I result, I find that in many of the topics I write about, I use examples, or facts, to support an argument that I want to make. However, I try to keep in mind that it is equally important to state a concise conclusion when I am done that is supported by my argument at the end of the thoughts.

Another thing that we are trained is to always "know your opponent's arguments, and be able to counter them". One thing that I think this does is help keep your mind open to other schools of thought, which is just as important as crafting your own thoughts. If you can't see the flaws in your arguments, or can't acknowledge that there are opposing opinions, I think you put yourself in a bad position.

I always try to stay true to what point I am presenting, but I also try to stay keenly aware of what can debunk my chain of reasoning and give it the credit, acknowledgement and respect that it deserves. I often find I can compliment my argument by throughly and sufficiently working through my counter-arguments. Sometimes that takes a lot of time and effort to do, and a lot of people (including myself at times) opt not to do this, but it's almost always worth it in the end.

It is important to remember that there doesn't always have to be a "right" and a "wrong" to every prediciment that we are faced with in life.

Anyhow...I ramble =) Great post!

@Road Rash - I'm fairly certain this is Kae's backhanded response to everything going on over at Restokin and Nerf This Druid regarding a controversial post made on Paladin Schmaladin =)

Kae said...

Indeed, Beru :) The arguments there are what started me thinking about the whole point. It is frightening how much power a blogger can have over the gaming community when it comes to sensitive topics, and the backlash that can result from it... which is probably part of why developers keep an eye on the blogs.

I have sometimes been frustrated or felt very self-conscious when something I say is misinterpreted or overlooked, so I can sympathize with the situation when others are placed in it. Such situations are a gentle reminder that the world is a big place and that each person sees things in different ways.

Anonymous said...

I had posted over in Averna's blog that had that first full sentance been worded slightly differently, the entire tone of the post would have been different and most of her readers would probably have gotten more of what she originally intended them to get from it.

Thesis statements are important in any and all settings. It's the first thing any reader sees, and it will stay with them through the entirety of your thougt regardless of what else you have to say.

For Example...if you start off a comment with "Prime Rib is the meat of all meats and I eat it twice a week!" and then follow it up with a diatribe about how we shouldn't kill animals for their leather and fur because it's horrible to slaughter animals for that purpose...people are probably going to continue thinking to themselves "how can this guy say that, yet eat prime rib twice a week!".

I assume that this is something that is still taught in our American Education System. At least one would hope =)

Anonymous said... clarify, the "her" refers to Ferraro, not Averna.

And even having to "clarify" made me giggle, considering the subject you posted about! ;-)

Lissanna said...

I worked on my last post (about the legendary weapon) on and off for about 5 hours last night, and then re-edited it a couple more times.

Kae said...

It is a lot of work, and I definitely give Lissana and Averna kudos for the effort you put into your defense on such a sensitive topic. You knew that others would be reading against the grain (practice for that thesis paper, Liss? :) ).