BE TECHNICAL LIKE EINSTEIN


A quick tour of the Stone Junction offices will tell you we love to use historical figures to inspire us. There are quotes on the walls from Maya Angelou, Jeff Bezos, Salvador Dali, Albert Einstein, Mae Carol Jemison, Stephen Hawking, Martin Luther King, Elon Musk and even Winnie the Pooh. It is a fun way to break down complex ideas into simple concepts that we can apply in our work. In fact, I think there are four historical figures who can, between them, teach us everything we need to know about technical PR and marketing. 

 

Be technical, like Einstein 

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough," said Einstein ... never, seemingly. The famous quote is a bastardisation of something that that Einstein's fellow Nobel Laureate in physics Richard Feynman said, when asked to prepare a first-year lecture to explain why particles with half-integer spins obey the Fermi-Dirac Statistics. 

A couple of days later, Feynman said, "You know, I couldn't do it. I couldn't reduce it to the freshman level. That means we really don't understand it."

Einstein actually told a journalist, who asked him to explain the photoelectric effect, that, "if I could explain it to the average person, it wouldn't have been worth the Nobel Prize." 

I think the balance between these three quotes, including the one that Einstein may have never said, illustrates perfectly how we should write for a technical audience. 

The writer must understand the topic well enough to explain it simply. If you are writing for Connectivity, for instance, your reader might be a project engineer specializing in robotics, the CEO of an automation company with training in finance or an industrial designer, specialising in 3D visualisation. These people do not necessarily have a great deal of common knowledge. 

As a result, your content must be understandable by all of them, despite their different backgrounds. However, don't break down the content, just its expression; after all, the people you are writing for are all educated professionals working in complex roles. The Wikipedia approach will turn them off if they come across it in a technical publication. 

While I hope Einstein was being glib when he made his comment about the photoelectric effect, there was a kernel of truth in what he said. As technical writers, we are normally writing for people with technical backgrounds, so we should not be too simplistic. That said, I think that the misquoted version, or Feynman's original, summarises my view perfectly; technical writing is about expressing complex information in a readable, entertaining, and simple way. To do that, you have to understand the subject matter. 

 

Want to read the rest of the article? Click through to Connectivity here.

Richard Stone is the founder of Stone Junction, a specialist technical PR agency delivering international and digital PR and marketing services for scientific, engineering and technology companies. He loves a bit of Warhol and Duchamp, Beatles and Bowie and even Einstein and Astaire. 

His biggest passion in life is pizza is technical PR though, so if you are as passionate about it as him, drop him line on richards@stonejunction.co.uk. He loves a chat. 

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