I'm an intelligent woman, in all modesty. But three times this past week I felt like a complete idiot.
Tuesday evening, I needed to pick my daughter up at a laser tag place which, the birthday party mom and GPS both told me, was “right behind Hobby Lobby and the movie theater”. That sounds simple. It wasn't. Apart from driving my vehicle right through the doors of these establishments and out the other side, I couldn't figure out how to get to the other side of the buildings. My GPS couldn't even get me there. I wandered in a labyrinth of parking lots until I finally found an outlet to an obscure street, and then I wandered down that street and a couple others until, by chance, I saw the sign for the place. I had to put the GPS back on to find my way home – I still couldn't get to that laser tag place again if I had to. Good grief . . .
Then yesterday morning, I had to do some online training for a computer system our school uses. From the get-go, I couldn't find the link on the main page that the instructor told us to go to (never did find it). More than that, as he continued, I realized I wasn't following what he was saying at all. I could see his actions on the screen, but I didn't know why he was doing that particular action and why I might want to do it later. After a bit, I realized that this training was apparently for administrators rather than teachers . . . so, yeah, that's it. That's why I wasn't following. (At least that's my story.)
And THEN, I had to run up to my husband's office for a meeting explaining the benefits program to employee spouses that wanted more information. I was the only English-speaking spouse present, so I had the English-speaking presenter all to myself – a one-on-one meeting. This should be helpful, I thought. Nope. The words I understood individually, but the context and meaning behind them eluded me. I kept having to rephrase things and ask the guy if I was correct. “So, these expenses I pay with the benefits card. But these I don't . . Oh, I can? . . Wait, but you said . . . huh?”
As I said, I'm an intelligent woman. Really.
I'm not going to deny that my brain might be a bit off this week, or that I'm less intelligent in some areas than in others -- because both are certainly possibilities. But each incident reminded me of the writing lessons I've been preparing for the fall about how to explain.
Sometimes, you need to do a close-up on the info, to give them more details or specifics. “The laser tag place is behind the movie theater. There's a street (though it doesn't look like a street) running south of the theater parking lot called Embassy Oaks; take that to where it stops in a T and turn left. After a couple curves, you'll see the place on the left.”
Sometimes, you need to back up and give your reader a view with a wider-angle lens. “This box is where you enter the information about this assignment – which is under this larger category of assignments – which is in the info about this particular class – which can be found under the Gradebook tab.”
Sometimes, you need to focus the lens – define your terms – to make things more clear. “FSA stands for Flexible Spending Account – that's what your husband pays into from his paycheck. The HRA, or Health Reimbursement Account, is the employer-funded account where you get deductibles reimbursed from.”
And always examine your assumptions: your readers may not have all the knowledge you think they have. Better to explain something too much than not enough, because they may be like me -- embarrassed to admit how much knowledge they're missing.