Balancing Comprehensiveness and Comprehensibility

I enjoy writing.

This statement likely doesn’t come as much of a surprise, seeing as I started, and have attempted to maintain, a blog since the beginning of the year (with mixed success).

Given my choice of profession, it is very fortunate that I enjoy writing, as the activity consumes most of my waking hours, sending/replying to emails, drafting reports, preparing presentations, etc.  It is also fortunate that I am at least somewhat talented in this area, or so I’ve been told.  Of course, this is not to suggest that I don’t have room to grow, as there is certainly ample opportunity for that.

In fact, despite regularly receiving positive feedback on my writing, this is also where I receive the majority of my constructive/developmental feedback, and it usually focuses squarely on the balance I’ve highlighted in the title of this post…balancing comprehensiveness with comprehensibility.

At first glance, the two terms seem similar enough.  However, while they sure look and sound somewhat similar, they are very much different.

  • To be comprehensive means to be ‘complete, including nearly all elements or aspects of something.’
  • To be comprehensible is to be ‘readily understood, intelligible.’

I’d suggest that my strength is the former, with the latter being a primary opportunity for development.  Improving on this point is enormously important, as in the business world, clear/concise/impactful (read comprehensible) content is highly prized.

In my effort to be comprehensive, comprehensibility often suffers, with the impact/message getting buried in the (very thorough) details.

To increase the impact of my writing, I’ve started focusing first on being comprehensible, ensuring that my most key findings or action items are clearly articulated and presented.

This last point, to me, is an important one.  The content alone, and the way it is written…no matter how comprehensive or comprehensible, isn’t the sole driver of how the information is received and processed.  Detailed (comprehensive) data, if presented properly, can be very much comprehensible (e.g., graphs, bulleted lists, bolded text, etc.)…just watch any TED Talk (or this one in particular).

Now that I more fully appreciate this point, I’ve started to see comprehensiveness and comprehensibility as less of polar opposites, and more as characteristics which can (and should) coexist.

From a Lean perspective, while it is possible to be both comprehensive and comprehensible (and we should strive for this), recognize that the customer (your reader) should outline the requirements for the work product and that their value definition should drive your approach, nothing more/nothing less!

In closing, I’d like to share a few quotes from men much smarter than me who were able to articulate this point in far fewer words.  Certainly more comprehensible, without sacrificing any comprehensiveness in my view either…an impressive accomplishment that I’ll continue to strive for going forward!

    • “Brevity is the soul of wit.”                                                                       William Shakespeare                                                                              (Polonius, Hamlet, Act 2 / Scene 2, 86-92)
    • “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”  Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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2 Responses to Balancing Comprehensiveness and Comprehensibility

  1. Hi Mika,

    Since blogging is a big part of your work, I’m very much interested in your perspective/insight on this subject, thanks for commenting!

    Definitely feel the same about trying to find my natural ‘blogging’ voice. As so much of my day is spent writing very professional, ‘dry’ (cold) content, it can be difficult for me to switch over to a more personal, ‘friendly’ tone for the blog, such that the material is a bit more approachable.

    Certainly something that I’ll continue to work on next year…

    Merry Christmas to you and Clay!

    Looking forward to staying in touch in 2012 and to hearing about your continued success : )


  2. Mika says:

    To be honest, when I first started blogging, I was deathly afraid of showing people my writing since it’s not my strongest skill (I’ve always struggled with grammar since English isn’t my first language). Plus, my lack of confidence has always gotten in the way from letting my true self shine. In my opinion, one of the hardest part of blogging is finding your natural voice. I’m still trying to find my natural voice when I write. I also get so caught up on trying to be perfect that I get analysis paralysis.

    Geoff, have a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year:)

    xx Mika

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