Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

What types of formatting allow for better communication?

  1. Dec 4, 2014 #1
    My best friend currently acts as a proxy to explain my ideas to other people, and he says that while my logic is generally correct, my premises and conclusions are difficult to connect because I don't stay on a particular topic easily during a conversation. This is partially because I pull from many different domains when trying to solve a problem, and partially because different parts of my brain are running my mouth during the conversation ("scatter brained", probably ADHD inattentive type or something).

    I have found it difficult to explain cross-domain relationships that I am investigating, mainly because people like information boxed nicely in a certain domain or "format". I seem to use a form of "compression" that is not compatible with most people's expectations. It was also brought to my attention that scientists often have an emotional attachment to proving or disproving certain theories (they also have person beliefs I would imagine), while I don't particularly care if I am wrong - I simply update my world model accordingly. In other words I don't "care about" believing in certain things, I care about progressing toward understanding truth, as much as can be possible for a human anyway. Like everyone I am also imperfect, just so you don't think I'm sitting on my high horse or whatever - my methods work fine for my brain, relatively speaking.

    The other problem is that I store multiple theories at the same time and apply them in turn to a problem; most people consider this "wishy washy" while I just look at it as evaluating information through many lenses to identify the truth in its pattern. When science was young, it was easier to think holistically; I guess due to the volume of data in science now, domain expertise means general inability to really think holistically. This is specifically why I never sought to work toward a PhD; my interests are too diverse.

    The bottom line is ideas mean nothing if they cannot be understood by other people. This is literally a formatting exercise: I think I just need to list premise and conclusion in sets that make sense to other people; but it is more than that, my friend is able to understand other people's beliefs, even if illogical, and make an emotional appeal (we call this "marketing ideas"). So clearly making a logical argument is not sufficient to qualify as "having communicated an idea effectively". At the end of the day, convincing people to listen apparently takes more time than actually sharing the information or asking a question.

    Surely I am not the only person to have encountered difficulties with that ? What is the correct way to "format" ideas that are in flux for discussion ?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 4, 2014 #2


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Jeez, man... reading that was like psychoanalyzing myself.
    I find that using simple everyday analogues within a particular listener's area of comfort works very well. As a very crude example, when talking to a brother-in-law or something about trajectories, use a baseball or football as your example. It's amazing what they can understand when it's put into terms with which they are familiar.
  4. Dec 4, 2014 #3
    Agreed. My friend has been helping me learn to explain by analogy. It always feels "incomplete" but it's better than nothing and I suppose you have to lay a foundation. We all learn new ideas in relation to existing ones, I guess I just have so many "patterns" stored that it's become easier to pick up most information (spontaneous "Context"). I'm also perhaps a little OCD about actually learning new things (I get bored easily if I don't) so motivation plays a huge role. I've never fully understood why people lose interest in learning and discussing ideas, but I guess it has to do with developing biases; I've actively tried to identify and remove anything that might be holding me back from learning.

    Ideas often lead to recursion (this bothers people I guess since it leads to topic changes). For example:

    Objective: high efficiency farming
    Research: Aquaponics yield appears to be the highest with the least amount of waste and inputs

    Aquaponics system requires power and water.
    Water obtained by river pump, atmospheric generation [requires power]
    Power may be obtained by grid, solar ..
    [subsets: PV panels, parabolic mirror, etc],
    [subsets: concentrated PV, regular PV]
    [subsets: trough mirror thermal fluid, trough mirror PV hybrid, mirror concentrator to Stirling engine]
    Power requires storage: flywheel, battery, gravitic.
    [subsets: types of flywheels]
    [subsets: types of batteries; lithium ion]
    [subsets: cobalt, titanite, LiFePO4]
    [attributes of each: charge density, lifespan, toxicity/recycling implications]

    Products: biofuel, food, medicine, construction materials, bioplastics, etc.
    [uses of: bioplastics]
    [construction: bamboo (compressed)]
    [strength attributes, manufacturing process, etc]
    [system input/output]

    Do you see potential physics questions somewhere in the above (thermal efficiency of engines for example)? How can I split out a random question without the full context? It simply doesn't exist "by itself" in my mind.

    Now this is just one system and a bit of research (like a week maybe of exploring all these) and it's far from complete. In the extended model I've also plugged the outputs into cannery, manufacturing, etc. so I have to consider all upstream and downstream industries, markets, material costs, etc. The above recursion and thought process is extremely natural for me, but it seems to confuse other people. But you can imagine the relationships between cosmology, chemistry, biology, quantum mechanics, and more being a really hard one to explain. Seeking truth requires some guesswork until you can fill in the blanks. People interpret my "working memory" to be a declaration of truth, but it isn't. It's just really large and all related if you look at it enough.

    What are the ways I can format a recursive process so people can better relate and absorb it? Do I really just need to stick to high level/abstractions to get anything done?
  5. Dec 4, 2014 #4
    Personally I tend to over explain and people's attention tends to drift away.

    WOW I certainly identify with that statement.
  6. Dec 4, 2014 #5


    User Avatar
    Gold Member
    2016 Award

    Wouldn't that suggest to you that perhaps they are not really interested in the subject?
  7. Dec 4, 2014 #6


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    BinaryMan, I would suggest that after you finish writing a post, that you go back through and cut about half of it out. You're losing most people with those lengthy posts. Just a helpful suggestion, and something I had to learn myself in order to be effective in my job.
  8. Dec 4, 2014 #7


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    To me, everything from sex to designing accessories for my wheelchair are potential physics questions...

    I'm the other way around. I see everything as separate, but connectable (in more than one way). I see a car as pistons and U-joints and seatbelt reels and turn signal switches all hooked together into something that works. (Maybe that's because as a fixed-wing pilot my compatriots encouraged me to think of a helicopter as a collection of spare parts flying in loose formation. :D)
    This might sound cruel or elitist, and it certainly doesn't apply on this site, but the sad reality is that most people are stupid. You just have to get used to that fact and adapt to it.
  9. Dec 4, 2014 #8
    That sort of confirms that people have short attention spans, no? If I have any interest in something then I tend to have a lot of interest in it. The question is do you try to convert things for those people (energy intensive!), or do you try to find the small percentage of people who can comprehend and comment on it (I guess, searching is also energy intensive) ? The problem is: to build an organization/company/whatever, you have to basically rely on those people who don't understand what you are doing. Piercing into various social networks is also energy intensive.
  10. Dec 4, 2014 #9


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    To be successful, you need to be able to communicate effectively to all levels of people. I was often in meetings where I was presenting to both the IT staff/CTO and the board of directors (owner/CEO/CFO) that were in attendance, I had to shift between highly technical and simple to the point versions of what I was saying. I made sure to prepare in advance with presentations geared to the needs and knowledge levels of both groups. It is a skill it appears you need to develop.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Similar Discussions: What types of formatting allow for better communication?
  1. What will be better (Replies: 30)

  2. What is this format ? (Replies: 6)