the five-fold way
If I may be so bold, let me wax eloquent, for a
moment, about the purposes of communication.
These were communicated to me by my father, a
Navy CIC Watch officer whose entire success and
existence depended on clear, concise communication.
Once, while exiting a compartment with fellow
officers, he commented on a small sign over the light
switch, which read:
"Please extinguish all sources of illumination before
vacating the premises."
He commented on how much more useful (and economical)
it would be to simply say, "Turn out the lights when
you leave." After retiring from the Navy, this
observation led him to take up teaching clear
communication at community colleges, churches, high
schools, special events, beer halls, and even (as I
once witnessed) the occasional restroom. It was his
He functioned from the "twenty questions" perspective,
a game we played endlessly; that is, you must figure
out the fewest number of questions it takes to tease
out the complete meaning of something, and then
remember those questions. He was incredibly good at it.
what i learned
My father insisted that there were only five types of
communication: teaching, demonstrating, explaining,
persuading, and providing correct, timely, contextual
facts. Remembering that he's a lifelong Naval
officer, here are his five favorite examples:
Arguing, no matter how violent or profane, is
considered a form of persuasion, although usually an
unsuccessful one. Likewise, giving commands -- they
don't have to obey you, even if they're
supposed to do so. I think this last observation
contributed much to his success as a well-liked and
He included greetings as an oblique form of
explaining, in that there were expected responses that
"explained" where the relationship stood.
shouldn't have been a surprise
In light of my upbringing, it shouldn't have come as a
surprise that the author(s) of
framework have presented something similar. They go
into much more (and better) detail than my
recollections. In the context of documentation, it
also makes sense that they don't cover persuasion: doc
really isn't supposed to handle that job.
Unfortunately, it does, but that's a different
argument... er ...persuasion.
And for technical authors, the framework given there
conforms to a statement attributed to Oliver Wendell
Holmes: "Every now and then a man's mind is stretched
by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to
its former dimensions." That's how it was for me, at
So here, I have endeavored to present not a re-hashing
of their ideas (there's no need, their solution is
"Turing complete"). Instead, I'm going to try and
write documentation on difficult subjects, using their
framework and my dad's clear communication teaching,
and see what may be of use.