Making sense of a message

Sometimes long messages contain very little information, and other times very short message may be densely packed with details and actionable info. In this article, I want to explore what this actually means for all of us. For today’s reading, I have chosen articles here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Reading and healing

We, as a society on average, are stressed and lonely. Written word often replaces face-to-face communication. When we read, the reading is not always informative. Quite often we read to get connected, to be entertained or to find inspiration.

Yet, what we often get is a well structured typical message that is taught in most schools and universities. It does not even matter when the author does not intend to sound informative, the message will usually be formed in the same way.

A typical message

When someone is talking to you he may want to communicate different messages. There are some fine differences between spoken and written communication, and there are specific subtleties in every media, yet for now, I want to focus on common aspects of most messages.

The least informative messages come from self-affirmation of the author. The author with low confidence may simply want to tell you why you should listen to him or share some facts or jokes that are supposed to make you listen. Some authors will try to provoke your thinking with irrelevant questions or vague explanation. If the author talks for several paragraphs and you cannot find any information in them, quite possibly the author is dealing with his own emotional needs, or with his fear that you are not paying attention.

Once the author is sure you are listening, he will prepare you for the main message. Probably there will be either background information review to make sure you are on the same page, or a motivational speech to make sure you are ready to react to the main message. If the subject is new to you, every detail matters. When you already understand the subject, you will probably automatically skip this part or phase off. Unexperienced readers either put too much attention here or doze off completely and mess up the main message.

The main message in itself is usually very short. After all, it is very hard to come up with something worth mentioning. You may miss it, so pay attention and try to understand every word. Quite often the main message is some sort of call to action. Do not worry if you missed the main message, the author will repeat it elsewhere. To make things worse, occasionally the author himself does not understand the main message or provides multiple main messages.

Immediately after the main message, you will often hear supporting reasoning. It may include dealing with possible objections, supplying facts, and discussing the line of thought. Typically this is the longest part of the message filled with details. This supporting information probably populates 90% of your memory structures.

Typically there will be some sort of summary. Hopefully, the author will provide you some giveaway present for your attention and patience. Quite often this will be a call to action or something the author finds interesting but did not quite figure out. If the author is concerned about your ability to follow his line of thought, he will provide a short summary.

Declutter

Each message offers different things. Ideally, the message would be short and contain only the things you need. Unfortunately, the author usually does not know what you need, and occasionally is not sure what he is about to say, until after completing the message. Even if he knew exactly what you need, he would probably add some supporting information. We are not used to getting extremely dense messages and do not really know how to handle them.

We are expected to declutter the message. First, we need to find the main message of the author, and then we are expected to find the information we want for our own use. It is very hard to declutter the message the first time we get it. The author may repeat his message to facilitate our work, or we may review the message in our mind.

Many messages we get follow the typical structure, but definitely not all the messages. Below I will give some examples of messages that do not behave like a typical message we might expect.

Immediacy

If the author wants immediate action, he will pack his entire message in the first sentences he sends. The message may be very short and dense, and give you a chance to react immediately. If the author sees you contemplating, he will either urge you to act or slowly guide you through different reasons he thinks your reaction is good.

A smart salesman will provide you with some token or gift before presenting his argument. The argument itself will also be very condensed. As a reader, you are supposed to take immediate action and make up your mind during the first couple of sentences. IF you got the message, you are free to go. Everything else can be ignored with little penalty.

Empathy

When the author needs an emotional response, the text will look like a song. A certain idea will appear over and over in the text. Between the reappearances of the main theme, there will be some sort of stories, which are intended to provide background information and context for the main theme. The emotional nature of the main theme means that it will be poorly formulated, and quite often it will use various associations that provoke your emotions.

Mostly we will witness this behavior in monologues. We might initially think that we are invited for a dialogue, but our own responses will change very little in the monologue. The most common theme sounds like “I am busy and tired” with variations on “have some patience”, “give me some credit”, “this task was harder than I thought” or “you should be contributing more”.

Typically you are expected to provide an emotional response, reaffirming the speaker. If you try to actually do anything, the speaker may be surprised, yet typically will not change his theme.

Lists

If the author is not completely sure in what you need, he will likely provide you with a list. The idea of a list is similar to a catalog: you get a large number of concepts, and if any of the concepts are interesting or important for you, you will probably look in the relevant in-depth article. Typically each item in a list will come with some explanation, barely enough for you to understand what you are expected to look for.

Certain lists are not a catalog, but a recipe and you are expected to follow all the steps of a list in a certain order. This does not change the fundamental nature of a list.

Online articles are especially full of lists, as these lists are easy to write and the resulting texts are SEO-friendly. Quite often, the author of an online article will be forced to reformulate his idea into a list, due to various media limitations.

A conversation will not contain many lists since the dialogue usually forces you to select what you need very quickly.

In a list, the main idea is typically very simple: “please select the items you need and check-out to the in-depth review sections”.

Conversation

Occasionally the author has nothing specific to say about the subject. As he addresses the subject from different perspectives, he hopes you will contribute from your own perspectives and connect both with the author and with the subject. You are definitely expected to be entertained. If you happen to love any of the perspectives presented by the author, your creativity may build great concepts often beyond anything intended by the author. The way the author will choose his perspectives may build the essence of the presentation. Some aspects will offer you to engage in controversy, other aspects will ask for your emotional involvement or provide you with actionable tips. You kind of control what you take away from such a message, while the author simply wants you to stay engaged and come back for more. Personally, I love this format, as it offers freedom and fun. This format is quite common between friends, and quite rare in publications.

Confessions

Certain messages are written for the benefit of the author. The author undergoes a certain healing process and uses his message as a media to review and reevaluate traumatic events. Paradoxically, these messages that are not even intended for the audience, generate the deepest responses from the audience. The author of such a message often allows himself to get vulnerable and is honest beyond the socially acceptable levels. This defenseless position allows for a deep emotional connection. You will often see this format in award-winning fiction, but rarely anywhere else. The reason is simple: the author feels too vulnerable and does not want to expose himself too much.

Summarizing an article in three words

The title chosen by the author is not necessarily the summary of the article. It is intended to stimulate curiosity or emphasize certain keywords. The titles are not for the authors or the readers, but for the publishers. As readers, if we could summarize the article we read into 3 words, what would these words mean? Would they include something informative, some call to action or something deeply emotional? Quite often, different readers would go through the same text yet choose different messages. A naive reader would choose the most common words of the text. Someone skilled in information theory or speedreading, would choose words that are common to a particular article but rare anywhere else. The author himself might choose the words used for his own thought process or therapy through writing. A person willing to act will choose actionable items, and someone seeking for connection would choose the words of emotion and compassion. Each time you review an article you may select different 3 words and use them as your own title to the article, and a way to recall it.

 

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