Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Please forgive the long letter; I didn't have time to write a short one. (Blaise Pascal)

Huh! I always thought it was Voltaire.

Anyway, one thing I’ve noticed over the years that this is a very common problem with new usability engineers and user researchers. And what that means is both too many pages (in reports, of course – not letters) as well as too many words on that page.

Now, I do have a hunch of where this comes from. And that would basically be school. Think about it. Throughout everyone’s academic career, we are usually awarded for over-delivering. It’s basically the standard way to show how smart you are and how much work you’ve done. Hey, nobody’s awarded gold stars for 16-pt type, wide margins, and something slightly under the mandated page count, right?

I guess I’m kind of lucky in that I happened to round out my academic career with a graduate degree in tech writing. The difference between what I learned in that program and what I learned as an undergrad English major could not have been more stark. 

In fact, it was only as a grad student that I first learned the basics of the rhetorical situation – audience, purpose, and context. So, who is this for? What are you trying to accomplish with it? How is it being delivered? How will it be processed? How likely is it to be accepted?

In other words, in the real world, the point of writing is not to impress the teacher and get a good grade. It’s to get things done – to impart information, to offer suggestions, to come to an agreement …

And what’s an effective way to do that? How about a PPT where you can get through every slide in an hour? A presentation where the amount of information on each page is not a distraction to what you are saying? Something where an audience member might remember 3 main points 10 minutes after the presentation is over? 

To tell you the truth, this is advice that is not just for junior team members. I just sat through a presentation where a very seasoned team may have gotten through 10 slides of a 40-page presentation.  

And it’s definitely not easy either. It takes a brave (and experienced and humble) soul to take all of that great work they did and distill it down to something that their audience can actually relate to, process, and value. It’s truly something every UE and UX researcher needs to remember though – it’s not about you!

Yup, that's him alright!

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