How do you learn?

I was recently asked for some advice for people new to technical communications and I found myself reminded of the Curse of Knowledge: “when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators”.

I struggle to remember not only what I didn’t know when I first started out in this profession, but how I learned things on the way. Memory suggests it was a mix of trial and error, good advice and lots of reading of other documentation to see how other people did it.

I won’t give away the advice I passed on, it’ll be published next week, but it did cause me to ponder my own career progression and how I pass on the knowledge I have to the rest of the team.

Passing on a mish-mash of learned knowledge is always tricky and can be dangerous. A recent discussion about improving the quality of our indexing reminds me that the way I learned to do it was based on thinking that is ten years old and may, or may not, have been superseded by better researched methods.

So the best thing you can teach anyone is surely the ability to learn for themselves, give them space to make mistakes (everyone does, it’s an essential part of learning), and help them understand what questions to ask and when best to ask them.

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Long time blogger, Father of Jack, geek of many things, random photographer and writer of nonsense.

Doing my best to find a balance.

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Gordon, I’m looking forward to the longer post on this subject. I something along those lines a while back and am interested in your ideas and insights.

[…] was reading Gordon McLean’s blog post ‘How do you learn?’ earlier, which led me to thinking about the Curse of Knowledge he mentions. While something may be […]

Hi Gordon,

Reading this post I see myself 3 years ago when my employed told me I have to teach a newcommer how to become tech writer.
The ideas you mentioned in your post are exactly the things I thought when I was informed of the new task. I asked myself what should I do?

Beside the styleguides for tech writing and some general rules whichapplied within the TW department, I just told the new colleague to try understand the product he should document, read existing specifications, understand the target audince then create a documentaion plan. At the beginning I weekly reviewed documnetation plan together with him. Now he is an experienced Tech Writer and I am very proud I coached him.


Hi Gordon
I liked the post.You are right making mistakes and taking lessons from them is the best way to learn new things.But most of the times we dont want to come out of our comfort zone.
I am looking forward for future articles.

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