Reading Comprehension

I think my reading comprehension must be pretty bad.  It would explain why I always

  1. Use PowerPoint with few words in presentations
  2. Write with fewer words on websites.
  3. Ignore long emails

OK, I have to explain that last one.  I don’t ignore it completely.  When I see a long email, I immediately get up and walk to the desk of the person who wrote it.  I say, “Hey, I just saw a long email from you.  What did it say?”

Now some of you might consider this obnoxious.  To me, it is a huge time saver and usually results in much greater understanding of the issues involved.  Written text usually has problems with nuance and information density.

Nuance
Spoken words have the additional benefit of facial and body language accompanying the specific text.  I can see if they are confident or unhappy or vexed by certain information.  I can “read between the lines” by watching the person speak.  I can also ask questions.  Getting the nuance of the issues is usually where the keys to success lie. A solution to a problem that doesn’t understand nuance is doomed to failure.

Information Density
By this, I mean “too much” or “too little” information.  The Curse of Knowledge makes this particularly hard.  The writer knows all of the details.  The question is: How much of the detail should he/she put in an email.  I find most people do both.  They add in tons of useless facts, and then leave out the most crucial bit of information.

It’s an incredibly difficult skill to master:  Typing just the crucial information.  Yet, it is so valuable. I wish there were classes on this in K-12 education and college.  I believe our society would reap massive benefits.

So I go over to the person’s desk and get the information verbally.  This usually saves a ton of time and gets a better understanding of the message.  My thought is: Is everyone’s reading comprehension poor or am I just especially bad?

Although I can only experience the world through my own eyes, I believe we should design and write as if people’s reading comprehension is as bad as mine.

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