The Red Pen Brigade

Cocktail Party Physics: a few choice words from the red pen brigade

Some more on the topic of targeting your communication, and the utility of editors.

The hardest thing about teaching anybody anything is finding the right level of communication, and the right way to express the concepts. It would seem logical that you don’t go all jargony on a rank beginner, anymore than you have to spend time explaining the basics to an expert. But you’d be surprised how hard it is to put that into practice. How much knowledge do you assume? And how clear an idea do you as an instructor or writer have of what each level of knowledge actually includes? One of the tricks of being a good teacher is to remember what it was like when you were just starting out. What didn’t you know then that you know now? And then you determine the correct order in which to teach it.

But that’s not all that you have to worry about, either. The next problem is expressing that knowledge clearly in a way that will allow the listener or reader to follow your argument and build on what they already know. When you’re teaching, you tend to do this in a number of ways, using various media. You drag in handouts, you assign textbook readings, you draw pictures, you write concepts and key vocabulary on the board, you use PowerPoint, videos, diagrams, whatever you can get your hands on to reinforce what you’re saying in your lecture. But in the end, it all boils down to words, and if you’re not using them effectively and clearly, your students or readers are sunk.