Writing: Frames of Reference

Aug 26, 2013 | Better Writing

When you write for business, your objective is to get ideas from your head to someone else’s. Your writing is wasted effort if the person who reads your material doesn’t understand it. It’s almost like writing in a language they don’t know.

Sports analogies have limited currency. Not everyone who will read your material is a sports fan. Some sports fans don’t know the same sports you do. Use the term “football” and North Americans imagine a sport with helmets, pads, and episodic play. Pretty much everyone else in the world imagines the game that Americans call “soccer.”

Experts have a limited shelf life. For people my age (67), anything Peter Drucker said is worth listening to. Some younger people in business don’t know who he was or why his advice might be valuable.

Historical references have limited shelf life, too. I was 17 in 1963, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech. For me it’s a memory, but for my children it’s something they read about in history.

Frames of historical reference are constantly changing. The good news is that there’s help in the form of the Beloit Mindset Lists. For fifteen years, those lists have shared the mindset and worldview of incoming college freshman. The latest list is for the Class of 2017.

When you’re in doubt about a reference, add a little explanation or a link to more detail. Wikipedia is a great resource if you’re writing something on the web. I tend to add a link for any people I mention, as I did above.

Getting the frames of reference right can be tricky, so don’t expect perfection. But make the effort because it will help more people understand what you have to say.

Sign Up For Blog Posts Via Email