Welcome to our series, the Writing Appreciation Corner where we highlight great pieces of technology writing around the web! The purpose of these posts is to showcase what makes a piece of writing “good” and to break down everyday techniques for achieving “good writing” of your own.
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Blockchain, in plain English
The piece of writing we are appreciating this week comes from the September 18, 2021 edition of The Economist. We were impressed and inspired by their explanation of what blockchain is near the top of the article, What are blockchains? The section we’re looking at is in the second paragraph, right after the lede. What impressed us? It's in the right place, leveling the playing field, helping readers into a topic that we've probably heard of, but many of us don't really understand. It is clear, as simple as it can be, and concise—as short as it can be while giving us enough information to dive in.
“A blockchain is a database that contains the history of whatever information it was designed to store. It is made up of a string of “blocks” of information that build on top of one another in an immutable chain. Bitcoin, one of the first blockchains, was built in 2009.” - The Economist.
What makes this writing "good"?
Translating between complexity and value is a fundamental part of how we think and work at Open Strategy Partners. Effective strategic and product communication, in our view, is specific, clear, and approachable. Using the OSP Editing Codes here’s what we think makes this paragraph so sweet:
Know your audience. When assessing (planning, editing) a piece of writing, it’s important to know the intended audience. The Economist views its audience as progressive readers, located around the globe. This kind of reader has probably already heard the term ‘blockchain,’ but unless they’re highly technical, they’re not entirely sure what it means.
SPFIC: "Make the scenario or problem space specific instead of vague, general claims."
The authors provide a specific definition of what blockchain is in three short sentences. They use direct, clear keywords (bolded below) that explain why the name blockchain is so named.
”A blockchain is a database that contains the history of whatever information it was designed to store. It is made up of a string of “blocks” of information that build on top of one another in an immutable chain”
If you read the keywords alone, you would still have a good idea of what blockchain does and how it’s structured. There are no additional technical details here that might add noise, confuse the reader and distract from the straightforward definition. Those technical details, as appropriate for the audience and thesis of the article, can be added in subsequent paragraphs.
EXMPL: “Use examples to enhance the thesis or claim by creating a picture in the reader's mind.”
The Economist gives us an example of a blockchain: Bitcoin. Rather than letting the definition stand on its own. This cryptocurrency will be familiar to many readers and paints a picture of the kinds of technologies that blockchain, as a database, can enable.
CLEAR: “Avoid vague descriptions of benefits. Be as specific as possible.”
The article gives us as clear and simple an explanation of the complex topic of blockchains to help us, the readers, get up to speed on it. As a best practice, give the shortest, clearest, best explanation you can, appropriate to your target audience, before adding metaphors, analogies, or similes. These can muddy the waters if they are mixed into the initial explanation of the topic at hand. Creating such an explanation can be a fun challenge (show it to your friends or to see if they understand!) and a successful result demonstrates your knowledge and your ability to teach and share it understandably.
More OSP Editing Code Resources
What to appreciate next?
Do you have an example of good, clear writing about technology that you’d like to share? Get in touch! Look ahead to more posts and, in the meantime, listen to our Communicate, Connect, Grow podcast to learn more about OSP’s editing codes.
Want to learn tools and techniques to consistently create authentic, compelling content? Check out our Writer Enablement workshops.