IS A PICTURE REALLY WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS?
Is a picture really worth a thousand words?
I sometimes do technical writing. It’s not a task for poets, my Ode Upon Configurable Ductwork Parameters not withstanding.
A good technical writer will assume the reader knows nothing and then begin condescending from there. Nobody has ever impugned assembly instructions for being too explicit. Conversely, all of us have cursed the vagaries of product literature written in what is apparently somebody’s second or third language. E.g., To increase listening, turn upward on dial clockways.
This situation is often aggravated by a manufacturer’s quest to present instructions in every applicable language while simultaneously incurring as little paper and printing costs as possible. The result is usually an enigma of pages smeared with teeny-weenie type. You’re reading English one moment, Spanish the next, and then suddenly reliving your high-school French classes.
This virtually guarantees that any particular person is going to get very little instruction in any particular vernacular. And of that, much of it will be tort-driven safety imperatives: Caution! Do not use to circumcise!—roughly translated from the Hebrew section of the instructions for my hedge trimmer.
Some manufacturers try to get around all of this by completely eschewing prose and resorting totally to pictures. Thus, I too often find myself prostrate in front of a carpet-sized fold-out booklet that features all manner-and-form form of drawings and icons that are supposed to do for me the same thing as would a simple English sentence like, “The left-side wing nuts thread counterclockwise.”
The truth be told, I never can fathom what these pictures are trying to tell me. I must be “nonverbally challenged”, a malady that the federal government has yet to identify, legitimatize, categorize, popularize, then criminalize for either noticing or ignoring, whichever comes first.
Meanwhile, if there’s a drywall scholar out there who can read joint-compounding directions in the original French, I can use a little help.
Stephen G. Barone is a marketing communications specialist and co-principal at barodine marketing communications & research, a general contractor of creative and analytical marketing talent to the science, technology, engineering, medical, professional, and general business communities.
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