The Tube

I’m back from a week in London, and this is a perfect opportunity to use London’s Tube to craft three writing tips for your next post, article, or talk.

Plan Your Trip

Whether you have memorized the entire Tube map or use an app, you must plan your route under the surface. When you are under the ground, there is simply no other way to get to your destination. Nothing except for the names of the stations, the abstract lines, and especially where they cross each other will help you navigate.

When you write a text, you must have a destination in mind: the place you wish to go — the idea you want to express. And just like your journey around London, you won’t be able to reach your destination without planning your route.

What does planning your writing route mean? Well, you should plan your line of thought: how to build your idea, step by step — from station to station. Sometimes, you will have to switch lines and turn in a different direction to develop your argument. Picking the right point to do so is not trivial, but you cannot leave it to chance. If you don’t plan your trip, you will lose your audience.

Mind the Gap

As crowded and dense as the Tube might get, I still love it. The Tube is an engineering wonder. The fact that it was launched more than 150 years ago and mainly evolved more than 100 years ago makes the current smoothness and efficiency of the entire system more admirable. But with all its ingenuity, you cannot avoid being reminded of the iconic gap (between the platform and the train) you should be careful with. This gap is here to stay, and no engineering wonder will ever be able to close it so passengers won’t need to worry about it.

When you write, there is always a potential gap between the ideas (and knowledge) in your mind and what your audience knows. It is, after all, the reason you are writing: you wish to convey an idea that is likely not trivial for your audience. But when it comes to this gap, you, not your audience, should be aware of it. It is your responsibility to close this gap and help your audience consume and understand your ideas. If you forget this gap exists, your audience might not be able to follow you.

Mind the gap and make sure your bridge it. Don’t write above your audience’s heads or assume they can fill the gaps themselves.

Create a Language

No less impressive than the system of tunnels, the trains, and how everything is orchestrated to help people get from one place to another is the iconic language that represents it all. With simple color coding, a handful of symbols, and short voice and textual messages, you can learn everything you need to find your way around the Tube in a day or two. You still have to plan your trip, use the map, or consult the app, but you can speak the language natively with minimal effort.

When you create a shared vocabulary with your audience, you can convey more complex ideas and design more elaborated arguments. Designing the building blocks that will allow you to do so is an art, but investing in it pays off big time. A well-designed language will often help you think of new ideas and gain new and unexpected insights, which you can communicate more naturally with your audience.

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