Too Much Detail

A trend has started in publishing of all sorts and it affects technical writing most of all. A friend of mine recently wrote a piece entitled, “A Multimedia Avalanche.” The post spoke to me on many different levels. As an author, it spoke to me of the need to keep my pieces short and to the point. No one wants to read every detail about every event that has ever happened—it simply isn’t possible to absorb more than the “Reader’s Digest” version of many of the events that take place in our lives. It makes me think of the supposed Sergeant Friday (Dragnet) quote, “Just the facts, ma’am.” The problem with using a medium such as the Internet is that people tend to think in terms of unlimited space, rather than limited reader attention. As an author, it’s important to write concisely, yet clearly.

As a reader, it spoke to my desire to throttle some authors to within an inch of their lives. After wasting my time, they never do seem to get to the point. An editor of mine is famous for pointing to the need to state the purpose of an article within the first paragraph and then to keep the article focused on that purpose. It’s good writing practice to write the beginning and ending of the article first, and then write the material needed to fill in the details. It’s a simple trick to keep the article short and focused.

As a citizen, the article spoke to the need to keep the media in check. No, the government shouldn’t perform this task; the reader should. When the media hypes a story all out of proportion, it brings out the mob mentality of some people. Suddenly, the government finds itself swamped with calls for needless changes for a non-event that was sensationalized by someone who wasn’t thinking. These sorts of issues tend to waste considerable funds that could be better used for other purposes (such as saving the taxpayer from an increase in taxes).

Information overload, wasted money, wasted time, and other such problems will only increase as citizen journalists and others with way too much time on their hands contribute toward an increasing array of articles that bury the reader in detail. To quote my friend’s article, “just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should.” It’s good advice.

What is your take on too much detail, especially as it relates to technical writing? Let me know your thoughts at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.