JS Tip 264: From the Communication Workshops: Elephants and Taxonomies, Part II


Last week, we talked about making complex subjects easy—or easier—to understand.

We suggested using “The Elephant Principle” (breaking the subject into smaller, bite-size pieces) to do that. We promised to address some principles for the process. Things to watch out for. Things to include.

Bingo. Here we are. Three smaller principles.  

Principle One: Use as many layers as necessary to explain your subject. Break the complex subject into smaller, simpler parts. Break those smaller parts into still smaller parts. The goal is your reader’s—listener’s, receiver’s—satisfaction. At some point, that person nods her head and says, “Okay. Now I understand. I’m comfortable with this.”

Historian Cornelius Ryan’s A Bridge Too Far uses the structure and runs 674 pages.

Principle Two: Preview your breakouts. Let your reader know where you’re taking her. Identifying. Gathering.

Suppose you’ve broken your project into simpler parts:

1.            Preparation
2.            Execution
3.            Follow-up

Introduce “Preparation” by saying, “Preparation includes identifying and gathering the necessary materials.” Bingo. Done. That’s a preview. Your reader knows where you’re taking her.     

Principle Three: Limit your individual breakouts to no more than five categories. More than five and your reader’s eyes will cross. Whoa. Too many. Five is about as many as a person’s mind can juggle at a time. Three’s an ideal.

What are your questions? This is fun. We love this stuff.