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