The man on the corner says, “Straight ahead for three blocks. Then turn left. You’ll drive about four blocks and the store will be on the right. Big red sign. You can’t miss it. But if you pass the Sunoco Station, you’ve gone too far.”
We’ve all been recipients of directions like that. It lays everything out in a very logical, foolproof sequence and then provides you with a landmark that you don’t really need – the one that tells you you’ve gone too far. While it’s useful to know you passed your destination, knowing doesn’t help you find it.
No, I’m not sitting here with too much time on my hands today. It’s just one of those days in which the quirks of how people communicate with each other (spoken or written) really bugs me.
Here’s another that drives me up a wall. I like to assemble things. So, let’s put assembly instructions into this same communication abyss. “Connect the two pieces with the bolt, washer, and nut provided.” Easy, right? I do that. Bolt, washer, nut… two pieces are connected. And I make sure they’re tight. I wouldn’t want them to come apart – ever!
Then comes the next instruction. “But before you tighten it all the way…” Grrrrr. It’s so illogical. Why not tell me ahead of time… or at least give me a warning.
I don’t know if the people who write directions or instructions are just so familiar with what they’re doing that they take for granted that I’ll understand it, too.
As a writer and author, it concerns me. As the world becomes more complicated, I wonder what needs to happen for people to become serious about better communicate. Perhaps I should write some instructions for how to write clear, easy-to-follow instruction.