Behold the mighty box score

Baseball box score For more than a century baseball fans have pored over these tables of names and numbers, from the sunny days of spring training ’til the chilly nights of the World Series.

I learned to read a box score even before I learned to ride a bike. More recently, I’ve seen that it has a lot to teach us about technical communication.

It’s context dependent. To most people the box score is a jumble of numbers and abbreviations. But to the initiated, who know the context, it conveys a wealth of information about how the game went and how each player performed.

It’s compact. This box score is about 10.5 x 4.0 cm (about 6.5 square inches) in my daily newspaper — about the size of a typical smartphone display.

It helps us chart the future of technical communication. Already, and increasingly over the next few years, we’ll see demand for technical content on smartphones, tablets, and devices that haven’t yet been invented. This content will need to be compact and adapted to the specific output formats. One way to meet this challenge will be to make the content highly context dependent, where the reader won’t need a lot of background or explanatory information. (Another way will be to use more graphics. Who knows? Perhaps the box scores of the future will have video clips embedded in them.)

What do you think? Does the future of technical communication look like a box score?

Originally published in the SDI blog, 30 September 2010

2 thoughts on “Behold the mighty box score

  1. Mark Baker

    Larry, another important aspect of the box score is that it is a well defined information type. You understand a box score based on your knowledge of the type (which is what you are saying when you say that you learned to read a box score). One of the great virtues of well defined types is that the reader can learn to read the type, which means that a great deal of information can be omitted from the instance because the reader can supply it based on their knowledge of the type. This is, of course, an added benefit when presenting information on a small screen.

    This is one of the reasons that I dislike systems based on generic information types. Using well define information types can greatly enhance the readability of the content for its habitual users (who are the vast bulk of the users of most information sets), and it also contributes greatly to improved content quality, as errors and omissions are both easier to see and easier to detect algorithmically.

  2. Larry Kunz Post author

    Thanks, Mark. You make some important points about well defined information types. I agree that they can enhance the usefulness of documentation, especially on small screens, for the reasons you mentioned.

    With the ever-expanding array of content, audiences, and output devices, it’s a challenge for us to develop information types that are easily learned and readily recognized. Yet I think we have to try.


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