Every year, meteorologists have the unenviable—but necessary—job of communicating information to viewers and readers about major weather events like hurricanes and snowstorms. They walk a fine line between taking technical information and putting it in a form people can understand, and doing so in a way that gets people to act in a particular fashion (e.g. evacuating coastal areas).
And they constantly run the risk of “getting it wrong,” even when they have all the correct information and communicate it over and over again.
We see the same thing when talking about whether different types of food are good for you or not. A few years ago, eggs were pretty much a forbidden food; now they’re not only okay to eat, but a critical part of a good diet.
Coffee. Butter. Meat. All these food items have been on the merry-go-round of scientific okayness.
And then there are the controversial subjects: climate change, fossil fuels, pharmaceuticals, medical procedures. Do you really understand everything your doctor tells you? Or what the difference is between climate change and global warming?
But it’s not just the hot-button topics. If you’re writing about anything with a specific lexicon or specialized knowledge—software development, car repair, taxes, being a digital nomad, rocket science—you have to be able to communicate information to an audience that may not be familiar with the language you use.
About an hour east of Chicago, I looked at my college roommate, who was at that moment driving a large moving truck towing a car, and said, “There’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark out, and we’re wearing sunglasses. Hit it.”
If you’re on a road trip, especially one anywhere in the general vicinity of the great city of Chicago, you’re pretty much contractually obligated to quote The Blues Brothers.
Whether you’re “on a mission from God,” hitting the road with your best friend to escape a sedate life, or headed to a drag queen pageant, road trips are the basis for a lot of stories, both personal and fictionalized.
Ah, summer. The season of beach reads, whether you’re actually at a beach or just wishing you were. It’s all about the paperbacks full of escapism and fun.
These types of popular novels, especially when they’re categorized as romance novels, catch a lot of flack for being unserious, fluffy, and mindless.
That’s definitely not the case.
I’m going to go even further and let you in on a secret: these books can teach you a lot about how to write better copy.
Can I be honest with you? Maybe share a little work frustration with you in confidence?
I hate it when people who are super smart and really good at their jobs say, “Oh, it’s just communications. Anyone can do that. How hard can it be?”
Unless your job is being a communications expert, chances are it’s going to be really hard for you to do it well.
Or to corrupt a Star Trek quote: “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a social media expert.”