Copyright 2020 Melanie Spiller. All rights reserved.
Distilling Huge Issues
MelanieSpiller and Coloratura Consulting
Sometimes, a subject is too large to cover detail by detail. There are several ways to keep your word count to a dull roar: make an example of one aspect and use it as a comparative basis for others; use an analogy or metaphor (compare the topic to some unrelated but fairly universal topic); or make generalizations.Comparative ExamplesLet’s say you need to explore coding specifics in several key areas of building an application. Each area could be an article on its own, but you’ve been tasked with cramming them all into one article. The first thing to do is look for common traits. Perhaps there is a single element that is common to all the key areas, like a particular coding phrase or two, security issues, or clean up. Or maybe there’s one aspect that is common to two areas and another that is common to other areas. If you cover the common aspects first, you can cover only the remaining bits for the various larger areas. But perhaps it would still lead to an overly long article. In this case, go ahead and describe the area in detail that has the most common traits. Then you can refer to that coverage as you discuss the other areas, without repeating the coverage.Analogies and MetaphorsAnalogies and metaphors only work if their subjects are truly universal. If your readers don’t follow along, you’ve wasted the effort. They probably won’t look up your analogy and you can’t expect them to take the time. An analogy is when you compare two or more things that seem otherwise unlike. If you’re talking about how using a word processing program is like using a mail program, you can easily draw parallels, like typing creatively in the language of your choice, spelling checks, using the Enter key to create a new paragraph, writing form letters, and so on. A metaphor is when you substitute one subject for another to create a leap of understanding. Yup, it’s not that different from an analogy; the main difference is that a metaphor doesn’t have to be about a possibly real situation. A metaphor can use figurative language, like “drowning in details” or “mopping the floor with him,” and an analogy is usually more straightforwardly realistic. If you want to discuss initiating an application for the first time and you compare it to the inner workings of an internal combustion engine as an analogy, you’re going to leave more than a few readers behind. If you have to explain the workings of an internal combustion engine, you’ve wasted a lot of your word count. So the idea is to come up with an analogy or metaphor that is on the same subject, generally speaking, as the one you’re covering, to ensure that the greatest number of readers will follow along.Analogies and metaphors are creative ways to explain complicated topics. Just be sure that your analogy or metaphor doesn’t need explaining itself. As you can see, using an analogy or metaphor is just a slightly more creative way of using a comparison. Instead of comparing to another aspect of the topic at hand, you compare to something off topic and universally understood.GeneralizationsSometimes, to get to the point, you need to make generalizations about the bulk of the material. A generalization is when you say that the whole package (or some portion of it) falls into a certain category.You could save yourself a lot of words if you say something like “this new method works much like any other method” and then point out only those areas that differ. You can also provide links or names of books where the subject is covered in greater detail and save yourself the trouble of unnecessary details.You could, for instance, provide a bunch of code that is relatively self-explanatory, and say “this does X” without further extrapolation. This way, you reserve your word count for those items that really need explanation. It may be that, like Ernest Hemingway, you’ll discover that a great deal of material is implied and can go unspecified. In your editing passes, be sure to look for aspects of coverage that can go unwritten.