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Old 05.01.2006, 13:13   #1
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Quote:
On Being a Technology Writer

Last week, my incoming e-mail included a surprising attachment: an advanced-placement English essay, by a high-schooler named Chris Diemba, on the subject of my writing style. Chris had analyzed several months' worth of my columns, and identified a number of tricks and tics that tend to appear regularly.
Chris's essay got me to thinking, once again, about the greatest chronic challenge for a tech writer: finding the right technological level for the broadest possible audience.
Take my dad, for example. He always introduces me with the same joke: "And this is my son David. I read his column in the Times every week. I don't always understand it--but I read it!"
I always smile gamely, but inside, I wince. As you can probably imagine, it's not easy to strike just the right tone for computer scientists and technophobes alike. Actually, it's impossible; all you can do is aim for the mainstream. In general, I don't sweat it when I receive protests from readers on the fringes. I figure they cancel each other out: on one hand, the novice who complained that I didn't define "U.S.B. connector," and, on the other, the engineer who asked why I don't include MTBF data (mean time between failure) of the cameras I review.
If you're truly geeky or truly technophobic, you should know about a couple of tricks I use routinely. As Chris Diemba put it: "A significant amount of Pogue's exposition is found in the parenthesis, usually less important specifications." Bingo. That is, I try to put the stuff that's of interest primarily to geeks in parentheses.
I might write, for example, "When it comes to connectors, this TV is loaded (two S-video, one each DVI and HDMI, three sets of component inputs and a quartet of composite jacks)." That's a coded way of telling people like my father: "You can ignore everything in the parentheses; that's provided for people who care. My point is that there are plenty of connectors."
http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html.../circuits.html
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