This week’s Tighten This! game exposed a pitfall that good technical writers learn to identify and avoid: the curse of knowledge. Let’s talk about how that plays out in our day-to-day work.
The curse of knowledge strikes when we become experts in the subject we’re describing, and we forget that others — especially our readers — don’t share our expertise. What’s become obvious to us, isn’t at all obvious to them.
Our subject-matter experts have the curse of knowledge. Our readers count on our not having it.
Mark Baker says that the antidote to the curse of knowledge is domain awareness:
Domain awareness means not only knowing the subject matter of your domain well, but also understanding your domain as a domain and its place in the universe. It is only in a state of domain awareness that you act as a useful and reliable tour guide to your domain.
In practical terms this means putting your subject matter into the context of what your readers already know. It means giving them stories and signposts so to help them relate the new ideas and new skills to what they already know..
As you move from novice to expert, you must never forget that your readers need those stories and signposts.
Day in and day out, how can you elude the trap of the curse of knowledge? Continue reading