Category Archives: Technical Communications

TMI and Over-sharing

Recently, the actress Lena Dunham suggested that the terms TMI and over-sharing are sexist. She is reported to have said:

“The term “oversharing” is so complicated because I do think that it’s really gendered. I think when men share their experiences, it’s bravery and when women share their experiences, it’s some sort of  TMI. Too much information has always been my least favorite phrase because what exactly constitutes too much information? It seems like it has a lot to do with who is giving you the information, and I feel as though there’s some sense that society trivializes female experiences. And so when you share them, they aren’t considered as vital as their male counterparts’ [experiences] and that’s something that I’ve always roundly rejected.”

She has some good points, but what the heck does that have to do with technical documentation? Easy. Figure out how much your audience wants to read (or watch), and adapt your message accordingly.

For most of us, our most precious commodity is time. I think this is what is driving the trend to shorter articles and content of all types. You will lose your audience if you waste their time, and people often make that decision within seconds of encountering your message.

I can’t say if Lena is correct in her overall assessment, but she is incorrect about it having to do with the sender of information. It’s the receiver. Tailor your message to your audience. And yes, in some cases that may mean considering whether your audience is male or female.

Here’s an amusing example: There is a theory that the universe began with a big “bang”, probably around 13 billion years ago. It went from a singularity, a point of zero dimension, lost in a void of darkness. Imagine that you are a physicist with a deep understanding of this theory.

Now, your first task is to explain it to a group of fairly bright college freshmen who are enrolled in a physics class. You might have a 20 or 30 minute lecture.

You second task is to explain it to a group of first-graders. You might have something like this:

“Darkness was over the surface of all. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness, and created the earth and the stars.”

Sound familiar? Of course. It’s a loose adaptation of Genesis. Is it fully accurate? No. But neither was your college-freshman explanation. Both are simplified versions adapted to meet the intellectual of the audience.

At Plans2Reality, we rarely use biblical text to explain modern technology, but we do have a number of strategies and techniques that we can apply to make sure your message is tailored to your audience, and doesn’t have “TMI”.