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Copyright Melanie Spiller 2011. Do not copy without permission.
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Humor

Using humor to make your point can be tricky business when writing highly technical material. You want everyone to get the joke, but you don’t want to make your piece seem frivolous.

 

Control is an essential part of using humor: don’t use obviously silly ideas. Don’t try the joke a different way later, either. Make your joke once, and if the reader doesn’t get it, he doesn’t get it.

 

Be sure that your humor is purposeful—use humor as a way to pull your reader further into your topic. If you’ve been asked to write on a serious subject, the publisher won’t appreciate your ridiculing their product. Of course, if you’re writing the back page of certain technical magazines, your whole purpose is to be humorous, so let it fly.

 

Remember, although insiders know that technical folks can be very funny, your audience may include readers who are intimidated by the whole subject. If using humor can help neophyte readers enter your world, go ahead. But don’t use obscure references unless your expected audience is most certainly sophisticated.

 

Keep it simple. If you have to develop a long story line to make your joke work, you’re no longer writing about the topic at hand. One or two pointed remarks should suffice, and then get right back into your subject. Remember that most humor is funny because it’s based on fundamental truths.

 

You have to be just as clear in your humorous remarks as you would be in any example of your point. As William Zinsser says in “On Writing Well” (see my blog on Useful Resource Books), “[Humor] is a special angle of vision granted to certain writers who already write good English.”

 

Don’t’ struggle to insert humor into your work. Most things that people find funny are surprises, a juxtaposition, a play on words, a silly response to a serious question.

 

And most importantly, try not to confuse sarcasm with humor. Something that strikes you as funny might well sound like sneering to your readers or the product’s manufacturer might take it amiss. Either way, you lose