Concise, Transparent Communication as the Primary Metric of Competency

Randall Munroe, the creator of XKCD, just made something remarkable. He wrote an explanation of the special and general theories of relativity, using English’s 1000 most common words.

I’m sparkling inside as result.

This is how writing should be. Maybe not to this extreme in all cases. But he was doing it to make a point, I think, and I want to make that point explicitly here.

If you have something worth sharing, it should be shared crisply and transparently. Attempts to obscure your knowledge in maze-like sentences and obscure terminology only says one thing:

I am not confident in myself, and I am fiercely worried that you won’t value my intelligence unless I write like this.

And there are many ways to play this game.

  • Sentences that go on for paragraphs. They are the Chinese Kung-fu of writing. Beautiful, elaborate, and not tremendously useful in the fighting ring of practical communication

  • Vocabulary and terminology that excludes people. It sounds fancy. It is fancy. But it doesn’t make more people understand your message. It’s purpose is to impress, not to educate

  • Tiny, nearly unreadable fonts. You should be seeing a pattern here: if you make the idea hard to acquire, it must be better

I celebrate those who are confident enough to display ideas without the associated hand-waving, and I hope we stop teaching these obscurantist techniques to students.

If you have something to say, just say it.

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