Updated: Sep 29, 2020
Every industry comers with key terms that are thrown about because everyone understands them. However, do your customers?
This week I've been reading, 'The Secret of Literacy, making the implicit explicit,' by David Didau. In this book about teaching literacy to teenagers David explains that many terms that are unknown to readers are often placed in one of these four contexts. Each context either helps or hinders the reader so it may be worth checking that you aren't falling into this trap.
We'll use 'braggart' as the example. A person who talks boastingly.
1) Misdirective - the key word’s meaning is opposite to the narrative and is difficult to work out.
Sarah was excited to meet Tony. Her friends had noted his wealth, his good looks and his luxurious parties. When she arrived at the party, Sarah quickly added the term braggart to the list of compliments her friends had given him.
Here the reader could be misdirected by the context and finish thinking that 'braggart' is another positive feature of Tony. In this case a reader wouldn't notice the intended contrast.
2) Nondirective - nothing in the information provided suggests the meaning.
Upon arriving at the party Sarah introduced herself to the braggart Tony.
Again, if you are unaware of the term braggart you are left with no clues as to what this word means. The tone and context provide very little information for your readers to process. Unless you are intentionally hiding information for effect, be aware of how to fix this. Adding 'infamous' in front of braggart would at least highlight that it is a negative term.
3) General - enable readers to guess the new word as overall tone supports meaning.
Despite some positive reviews of Tony from her friends, Sarah struggled to get a word in and quickly decided he was a braggart.
In this scenario, we learn that the key word is negative and somewhat linked to someone over talking. This doesn't give us the complete meaning but we are left understanding Tony's overall character.
4) Directive - the meaning is directly related to the new word and clearly supports it.
Sarah thought the host, Tony, talked too much and she was growing increasingly bored of the conversation. She didn't really care about his umpteenth business achievement. "What a braggart," she muttered.
In this scenario the context tells us that Sarah is not enjoying Tony's selfishness. The line before the key word helps the reader to see that he is someone who brags a lot. Now, without knowing the word braggart, the assumption of the word's meaning and the understanding of the character are hand in hand.
Although these examples are a little abstract, hopefully this will help you to review some of your content to assess whether any information could be misunderstood by your customers.