Martin Rowe, Senior Technical Editor- July 12, 2012As a technical editor, my job has always been to explain technical concepts in ways that are clear and make sense to an engineering audience. In many cases, I’ve interviewed engineers developing new technologies and in turn explained the technology to other engineers. Often, I must assume that not everyone reading my work is familiar with the technology. Thus, I explain details that those in the field take for granted.
Explaining technology to non-engineers is often more difficult because you can’t assume any technical knowledge. Take, for example, my new office phone. It’s an IP phone. Because you’re an engineer, I assume you already know that IP means Internet Protocol and that IP networks can carry digitized voice. Thus, you understand that the phone works through a computer network, not a phone network.
When the phone arrived, I connected it to my home network and called my wife at her office (I work at home) to test the phone’s voice quality. She wondered how there could be a new phone number in our house without a new phone line. Even more confusing is that this new phone has an area code in another state.
I said that the phone plugs into our home computer network plug in the wall, not to the phone line (I had the house wired for phone, Ethernet, and cable during last year’s renovation). But, we have DSL for Internet service, which uses the phone line, so the phone that doesn’t use the phone line uses the phone line. See the problem?
I thought about explaining that even though the computer uses the phone line, it works on a different channel than our home phone, kind of like TV channels. This new phone uses the same channel as the computer. Imagine the next question: “The new phone uses the computer network on our phone line, but not the phone line? I thought it was a phone.”
How would you explain this? Give it a try.