conveying complex technical information (quick thought)

there’s something that interests me, but only because I encounter it done poorly everywhere and it REALLY IRKS ME.

I’d much rather it be someone else’s problem, but in lieu of that I often find myself ranting about it or fixing it myself as best as I can.

It’s something like “conveying complex technical information”. In fact there are professional “technical communicators”, but their conferences are just case studies of things done right and wrong (and the way the people describe themselves :/ seems not exciting to me).

I would define my interest in this way:

Conveying complex technical information

Transmit success rate:
100% = telepaths
0% = speak/feel different languages and are blind

Specific applications:

  • Education: university STEM students, high school students. Blank-slate brains to fill with information!
  • Academia: why is this paper so hard to read? why does it take new PhD students 12 months to understand the state of the field?
  • Data sciences: i need to find insights in terabytes of data. help.
  • Engineering projects: why does it take so long to figure out whether to use this tool or that framework?

It touches on

  • document design / website design
  • visualizations
  • how to write well
  • interface design (make good GUIs)


  • Goal: increase success rate & decrease transmission time
  • docs (sphynx, liquify, doxygen, readthedocs, jenkyll)
  • screenshots or video (shutter, gtk-recordmydesktop, gfycat)
  • visualization tools (d3.js, ipython, R)
  • software replacements for editors (checks to see if your paragraphs are structured well, flow coherently, etc.)
  • tools to map your mental models

Transmission fails if:

  • person loses interest
  • person receives all information but models information incorrectly, or
  • loses information because it falls outside their model

Ideally, the transmission

  • Delights and inspires
  • Encourages thinking
  • Encourages new ideas / connections to be formed

Okay, if I think anymore about this topic my brain will explode. Time to go to sleep.