Cooking without Jargon

Many people, when they hear you're a technical writer, assume that you work in the "high tech" industry. Which is reasonable, but of course there are many tech writers whose subjects are less exotic. The article Boiling It Down For The Cooking Challenged offers a fun peek into the world of technical writers who write cookbooks.

I've often thought that recipes were the most common task-based procedural instructions that people encounter, and I also think that software writers can learn a lot from the instructional design of recipes, but I have been overlooking a trend that's apparently sweeping the cookbook industry--eliminating jargon. An excerpt:

"When the country's top food companies want to create recipes [they] write them for a nation of culinary illiterates. [...]Basic cooking terms that have been part of kitchen vocabulary for centuries are now considered incomprehensible to the majority of Americans. To compensate, food companies are dumbing down their recipes, and cookbooks are now published with simple instructions and lots of step-by-step illustrations."

I'm not trying to draw a parallel with jargon that's used in software manuals. A fundamental difference is that procedural building blocks (click, drag, type) are generally simpler than those in cooking (blanch, fold, dredge), but it is an interesting peek at challenges in another topic area, and also how what is considered to be "common knowledge" changes across generations.

Posted: March 23, 2006 link to this item, Tweet this item, respond to this item