What Do The Words Mean?

In trying to clear a block about a specific assignment, I reviewed several client documents that were a model for the assignment. The problem: they just were not like any prior models I have seen for this type of work. I couldn’t quite get oriented around the issue of “what really belongs in this category?”

But I got a (quick?) flash. The real issue is that the model document used certain words in a different context than the one with which I was familiar. That context – sadly – existed completely outside the model document.

There are two lessons here.

One is to define context in the work you create. Context can dramatically modify meaning. Without it, your audience (readers, viewers, whatever) are bumping into walls – or falling off a cliff. (Possible exception – thrillers, a la Alfred Hitchcock, where withholding context can be essential to creating mystery and preserving suspense.)

The other is – when you’re trying to work with new models – is understanding exactly what everything is supposed to mean. Words, symbols, what have you. What is intended? How should the reader or viewer understand that element?

Considering those can dramatically improve the user’s experience – and simplify your work in creating new or derived products.

2 thoughts on “What Do The Words Mean?

  1. Okay, I’m begging for an example. I think I know what you are talking about but I’m not sure. Could you share some samples for each of the two points?

    1. In the case I’m working, both issues are related.

      For example, I have a title called “Profile”. It’s not clear from the context what is supposed to go in this field (say, on a form). After reading a half-dozen examples – not particularly verbose – it finally dawns on me that they mean something more like “job skills and capabilities.”

      The context part here is that it even though it is a human resources document, the general form doesn’t say “here is the way in which we will use the information in this block.” The definitional part is: “when we say X we really mean Y.” Of course, it’s pretty easy to argue: why not just say Y in the first place?

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