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Thursday, April 20, 2023

More Thinking, But Don't Overthink

What if we thought more before we said or wrote anything? I like what Warren Buffet said about how spends his time thinking. This sitting and thinking can come in handy as technical writers.

Before we create documentation or in the process of creating one, it might help to stop and think things through. (This will especially be handy if you have a product to play with.) We might get clarity as we walk through a mental journey to overcome some huddles. 

Save Time and Effort

Thinking more might save you time and effort on documentation. Rather than fuddling around where you might end up deleting either half the documentation or the whole thing, why not think things through before you write? Jotting some quick notes can help you see where you need to go. (While I believe deleting what you wrote previously is a part of the writing process, there is such a thing as overediting, which I think is a part of overthinking, which I will get into in a bit.) Thinking can help you create a map of where you want to go or prevent taking unneeded steps. 

So, if we were documenting a product and we had it in our head initially to create one giant document, but then as you think it over, it turns out it would be better to have a series of smaller documents. Or, let's say you thought at first you need multiple documents but you realize only need one document. Or finally, the product is so self-explanatory, it doesn't need documentation at all, so you can focus your efforts elsewhere. 

Thinking things through can help us with this, rather making rash judgments where we'll regret this later. We only have so much time in our lives, so we need to be prudent with what we do.

Writing is Thinking–Probably Not

Some might contend that "writing is thinking." I see what they're saying. I agree with this to a point, but in the end I have to disagree. Writing and thinking are two different things. Thinking is a mental process in your head. Writing is a creative process that shows itself in print, audio, or screen. Thinking may help you get ready for writing but it's not writing. If you think otherwise, that's fine. We can agree to disagree.

Don't Overthink, Just Write

Just like you can overwrite or overedit something, you can overthink something. Overthinking is bad. Like over-engineered or overwritten work, it can be confusing at best, where you have too many caveats, complexities, or features. At worst, it can lead you to a mental paralysis where you can't write anything at at all.

After thinking something through, it's time for you to write and let the chips fall where they may. When it comes to writing, I agree with Ray Bradbury. I like what he said about writing. In context, he was referring to creative writing. But I think we can apply this to technical writing. 

I have seen other technical writers, and I've experienced this myself, paralyzed to create documentation because we overthought stuff. We were trying to take too many things into account. When we commit to writing, we just need to need write it out, refine it, and publish it. Worst case scenario is we need to revise the documentation. Revising documentation is a part of life as a technical writing. This is especially true if you write for software applications, where updates are the norm.

But first, what if we sat and thought carefully, without overthinking, through things before we did anything? I wonder how life would be?