Don’t let the facts obscure the truth

I was reminded of this quote that that I always attribute to a master of communication on talking about complex issues.  


Many times when we explain something we force ourselves to point out every small detail which causes the audience to miss the big picture.   For example if you are building a poster to show off the types in .NET Framework 2.0 should you show ALL the types?  Well, to hold to the facts you should.  But would that miss the truth of the platform, actually making it harder to find what you may be looking for?


Comments (4)

  1. David Smith says:

    Are we talking:

    It’s okay if you’re saying: "Let’s not put the internal classes on the poster"


    It’s not okay if you’re saying: "Let’s not put all of the publicly exposed classes on the poster"

    I have a poster in my office that goes along with your book. The poster makes page references to each type that is in the book. I was disappointed that the poster didn’t go farther in depth, showing ALL the types; just the ones in the book.

    The book that the poster goes along with:

    If you build a poster that has all of the publicly exposed type of the .NET 2.0 framework, I’ll buy it.

    In fact, I’ll take a recommendation from my friend on the Avalon team,, and MAKE a poster today. =)

  2. Jeff Atwood says:

    I think the 80/20 rule is helpful here. Cover the 20 percent that is most commonly used, and leave the other 80 percent as reader exercises. You’ll go crazy trying to cover everything.

    It is important, however, to identify the 20 percent of the API that is ACTUALLY BEING USED versus what Microsoft *thinks* people are using. Sometimes there is a big disconnect here.

    The "20 percent that is used the most" has to based on actual collected data — the many .NET related FAQs on the internet are a good place to start.

    In fact, as an API designer, I’d actively seek out these FAQs and focus on the namespaces that come up the most often– these are the problem areas. I think the speaking tour you did, and the general emphasis on getting MS employees "out into the wild" more, is a tremendously good thing!

  3. Sankar says:

    That is the reason why drilldowns exist. First know thy audience. You start by explaining things at a level high enough for the audience. You learn more about the audience as you go and then adjust the complexity to go lower or higher.

    Example: Progressive APIs pave an easy path to understand complex class libraries.

  4. Addy Santo says:

    That isn’t a very good example because the .Net library is just a bunch of classes. There is a bigger picture but certainly nothing you could call "truth". The goal of providing facts is to support your opinion, which is usually presented as the "truth" (although often someone else is using the same facts to support *their* truth which might be opposite of yours).

    Your quote is dangerously close to another famous quote – "I already have an opinion so don’t burden me with the facts"


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